Director Ronny Yu speaking about Leslie Cheung on Stephen Chan's lifestyle programme 'Be My Guest'
Stephen: You have collaborated with so many artists. Do you have one or two in particular whom you most appreciate or have a close comradeship? Would Leslie be one of them?
Ronny: Leslie, yes. I collaborated with him the most. We made 3 films together. The reason why Leslie and I got on so well together was because he was fanatical about films. Moreover once he had set a goal, he would work towards achieving it no matter how difficult things were, nothing was ever a problem as long as he had done his best whether it was his singing or composing songs, you know. Even his house renovations, it had to be the best, you get me? Everything he did must be perfect! In addition he was a person with extremely fine taste so a lot of times when I was having discussions with him on how to improve on a film; for example, 'The Bride With White Hair'; he would say, "Ronny, maybe we can try doing it this way or perhaps we could try it that way..." We were like brothers in our collaboration; we had great discussions together. At that time we had to meet Brigitte Lin's schedule so we were doing 72-hour filming using 3 sets of crew but there was only Leslie and myself until one day I said to him, "Leslie, I can't take it anymore!"
Stephen: But he was still able to carry on?
Ronny: Leslie said, "Ronny, you have a nap. I'll finish the filming, then you can look at it later, alright?" Of course that wasn't possible because it was something I had to do myself but if an actor could offer to help me out like that, I've just got to carry on. That was the way we discussed things... we were completely open with each other. On many occasions, because of the film, he would let me know when he thought things were not good and I would also tell him when something was no good. Between us, besides being professional, there was also a sense of mutual respect for one another. The funniest thing was, I said to him, "It's not ok, 'The Bride with White Hair' needs a theme song" He replied, "Yes, I know it needs a song but I haven't thought of one yet but I'll think of one quickly," True enough he was really very quick about it. I remember when I was filming the ending... one night I was filming and editing simultaneously, suddenly Leslie rushed in. He said, "Hey, come hither, are you ready for it?" I asked, "What's up?" He replied, "I am going to hum you a song." So he hummed this tune to me. After Leslie passed away, this image remained in my mind all the time; Leslie in full costume with hair piece and all, humming a song to me. I can never forget that feeling; so when people asked me if I remember Leslie, I tell them of course I remember him. At a time when we were both battling, he came along to say, "Let me hum you a song...". That song moved me so much that I said to him, "That's it, that'll do!" He said, "Wa, really? you're too easy to please!"
Stephen: You simply accept things too easily! (laughs)
Ronny: Yeah... yeah...(laughs) Leslie said, "I merely hummed a few notes of the song to you and you accepted it just like that!" I said to him, "That's because it was you humming the song to me! The song is your own composition; it is full of your sentimentality in it. Of course it is good."
Ronny: 'The Phantom Lover'... is...
Stephen: Is one of your most pleasing piece of work?
Ronny: 'The Phantom Lover' was extremely difficult; the reason it was so difficult was because it was filmed in Beijing at a time when it was freezing cold! We also had great aspirations for this film. As soon as I talked to Leslie about it, straightaway both of us got hold of Ma-Xu Weibang's version to watch it. Immediately after that we discussed among ourselves on how to proceed with this matter. Well... I said to him, "There's a problem, you have to be ugly." Because in the film he was attacked with acid so his face was disfigured with the burning acid. But he replied, "So what if I have to be ugly, I am not afraid of being ugly." I said, "But you're a good-looking guy, everyone address you as a handsome boy!" He answered, "Oh... but I still have the other side of me that is handsome!" (Ronny laughs loudly)
Stephen: (laughs) There are two sides of him...
Ronny: (still laughing) Yeah... two sides... that was how he viewed things. He wasn't like some of those big stars who probably would have said, "Oh yeah, it's ugly, I'd rather not do it" or "Can you beautify my ugliness". He was not like that at all because he really loved films. He always told me how keen he was to be a director.
Stephen: Yes... he had wanted to direct a re-make of your film, 'The Saviour'.
Ronny: Yes, that's right. It was a such a pity... most regrettable.
Stephen: Before he left this world, did you see him or have any contact with him at all?
Ronny: No... there was a phone call... because at that time I was busy preparing the promotional work for the release of 'Freddy vs.Jason' in America. Suddenly I received a phone call. America was a day behind Hong Kong time wise; when I got the phone call, it was already the next day in Hong Kong. It was 1st April then; I scolded my friends in Hong Kong. It was April Fool's Day and though I was making a ghost film at the time, it just could not be possible but they told me it was true. I honestly could not believe it! Why? Leslie always gave me the impression that he was a very strong person; mentally he was a very strong person. He was not a person who gives up easily... he was never like that. He was my pillar of strength who always supported me from behind when we were making films. Often he would say to me, "Ronny, don't stress, you can do it." I remember very clearly when we were filming 'The Phantom Lover'; the leading actress was Jacqueline Wu, she is a Taiwanese actress. During filming, she sometimes had difficulties in expressing certain things; on such occasions I would be very annoyed and said, "No, Jacklyn, it's not like that, not like that at all!" Then Leslie would come over and pull me aside. He said to me, "Hey, she's only a Taiwanese lass, don't be so annoyed. Besides, your Mandarin is so poor!" I said, "No, but she knows how to speak in Cantonese." But Leslie said, "Let me do it, leave it with me." He was always like that; he made me feel very comfortable when filming with him. When I'm sleepy, he'd say... hey... Leslie enjoyed eating, his servant always made lovely soups for him... Leslie was a very good person and extremely talented. He always knew exactly what he was doing. So when I received that phone call, I did not believe it was possible.
Stephen: Did you have any plans to make a film with him again?
Ronny: Yes, I did. At that time we were thinking of making a film about Chinese American youths... the story of the birth of Chinese youths in America and their struggles and conflicts with the American black gangs. It also tells about the hardships and survival of overseas Chinese living in a western society. I was planning to do something like that with him; we had already done a lot of research together. During that time when he was in Vancouver; we followed the police around on their beat to observe the activities of the real Black Mafia; we did a lot of research and Leslie, under disguise, also came along with us. He was totally involved in it.
Stephen: The final outcome was it never eventuated.
Ronny shook his head in silence.
watch the video of the interview on LeslieTong.com
many thanks to Simie for her precious translation