Although taken too soon, Leslie Cheung remains a legend of Hong Kong cinema. Celebrate this versatile actor with some of his best movies that’ll have you crying, laughing, and pressed to your screens.
When looking at the landscape of Hong Kong cinema, it’s hard to imagine how different it’d be without the magnetic presence of Leslie Cheung. The star of many classic Hong Kong films and LGBTQ+ gems, there’s no denying Cheung as a bona fide Hong Kong icon. A gone-too-soon actor and Cantopop singer, Cheung has contributed invaluable films to the lexicon of cinema. Whether it’s drama, action, or comedy, you’ll find a shining Cheung performance in any genre. To celebrate this legendary idol, here are some of the best Leslie Cheung movies of all time.
Our favourite Leslie Cheung movies for the ages
1. Days of Being Wild (1990)
In one of his best movies, Days of Being Wild, Leslie Cheung plays a conflicted playboy. Smooth-talker Yuddy breaks up with Li-zhen over commitment issues before moving on to a cabaret dancer. All the while, his tense relationship with his mother bubbles over when she reveals he is adopted, leading to his desire to find his birth mother. Helmed by famed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, the film includes many stars like Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, and Tony Leung. Cheung is magnificent in his leading turn, playing such a complicated character. A frustrating role at times, Yuddy is still presented with a sense of humanity, not least owing to Cheung’s stellar interpretation.
2. Rouge (1987)
Although Rouge is perhaps most famous for Anita Mui’s star role, Leslie Cheung puts on just as great a performance in a fantastic movie. In 1930s Hong Kong, courtesan Fleur and the wealthy Chan Chen-pang fall in love. When they realise their love will never be accepted, the two choose to take their own lives in order to be together in the afterlife. Decades later, with the help of a modern-day couple in 1987, the ghost of Fleur looks for her lover whom she believes has become lost. Cheung’s chemistry with Mui is electric in this film, which solidified the duo as top stars in Hong Kong at the time of its release. Rouge remains a top example of Cheung’s power as a romantic leading man as well as his dramatic chops.
3. Happy Together (1997)
Another Leslie Cheung movie directed by Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together is a staple of Hong Kong queer cinema. Cheung and Tony Leung play lovers stuck in both Argentina and their own turbulent on-and-off relationship. Cheung plays the more promiscuous of the two men whose reckless ways lead him to getting beat up and moving back in with his ex. Both Leung and Cheung portray fire and loneliness terrifically, carrying the emotional core of the film. Happy Together remains one of the best queer films of all time – with Wong winning the award for Best Director at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.
4. He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994)
While many of Leslie Cheung’s best movies are dramas, he has also shone in comedies like He’s a Woman, She’s a Man. The film follows a woman named Wing, who idolises pop singer Rose and her record producer boyfriend Sam. When Sam wants to mentor a male singer and announces a talent-search, Wing disguises herself as a male in order to meet her idols. What follows are gender-bending hijinks alongside moments of heartfelt romance, with great performances from Anita Yuen, Carina Lau, and Cheung. He’s a Woman, She’s a Man also features Cheung’s musicality with a great tune that won Best Original Song at the 14th Hong Kong Film Awards.
5. Farewell My Concubine (1993)
Leslie Cheung puts on one of his best performances in Farewell My Concubine, a critically successful Chinese historical drama. Set in the politically turbulent 20th-century China, the film chronicles the complicated relationship between two Peking opera actors. Fully inhabiting the role of Dieyi, Cheung is both layered and intense as he moves through the film. Farewell My Concubine went on to tie for the Palme d’or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and win the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
6. A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Did you know that one of Leslie Cheung’s best films is also one of Hong Kong cinema’s most influential action-crime movies? Legendary action director John Woo helms the genre-defining A Better Tomorrow, which stars Cheung, Ti Lung, and Chow Yun-fat. Lung and Cheung play brothers on opposite sides of the law as a gangster and police officer. As the two brothers struggle with their relationship, the underground world of the Hong Kong triad threatens to boil over. As police officer Kit, Cheung shows off his dramatic chops and his action skills. A Better Tomorrow remains one of the most famous Hong Kong action films of all time as well as one of Cheung’s most impressive roles.