Hong Kong Legend Tony Leung Tries His Hand at Hollywood

On Leung’s first day on the set of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in Sydney, he emerged from his trailer, dressed and ready, and asked to have his chair put near the camera. Every day he repeated this process. “He would never be on his phone,” says Cretton. “He would just come and sit all day, watching everything that we’re doing—what shot we’re setting up, what we’re doing with the stand-ins. And by the time it was ready to go, I’d literally have nothing to tell him. Initially, I’d be like, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re thinking,’ and he’d say, ‘Oh,’ very politely, ‘yeah, I know. I’ve been watching this whole time.’ ”

When it came time for Leung to shoot a scene (which has since been cut), Cretton says a reverent quiet descended across the set. It was a hot day, and for Leung it was even hotter; he was attired in the long robes and wig required to play Wenwu as a young thief, stealing cattle, in what becomes a massive battle scene. Immediately after the first cut, Cretton looked to Schwartz, the producer, and said, “I don’t even know what to go tell him, because we don’t have to do another take. There’s really no reason to.”

Simu Liu, the 32-year-old Chinese-Canadian actor who plays Shang-Chi, is irrepressible when speaking of Leung’s stature, likening him to “Leonardo DiCaprio, Marlon Brando, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, all rolled up into one.” Sometimes he could hardly believe they were acting in the same film. “One day you’re on a network comedy show that’s doing really well, and then another day you’re in Australia with one of your childhood heroes, Tony Leung, somebody you grew up watching and idolizing.”

What struck Liu most was Leung’s unassuming manner. “If you met him and you didn’t know him, which of course is very difficult if you live in Asia, you’d think he was just like anybody on the street. He was so kind and radiated this Asian dad energy that I’m very familiar with and very drawn to.”

Coat, $4,400, by Dior Men. Sunglasses, $445, by Tom Ford.

Yet sharing scenes with Leung, Liu soon found himself in a confrontation he hadn’t quite imagined, with those incredible eyes he’d grown up watching. “He’s able to convey so much with a single look,” Liu says. “It’s one thing to see that captured onscreen; it’s another to have those eyes across from you, piercing through to the depths of your soul.”

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