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Cheung, Leslie (1956-2003)  
 
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Leslie Cheung first gained legions of fans in Asia as a pop singer. He went on to a successful career as an actor, appearing in sixty films, including the award-winning Farewell My Concubine. handsome, he sometimes played sexually ambiguous characters, as well as romantic leads in both gay- and heterosexually-themed films.

Leslie Cheung, born Cheung Kwok-wing on September 12, 1956, was the tenth and youngest child of a Hong Kong tailor whose clients included Alfred Hitchcock and William Holden.

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At the age of twelve Cheung was sent to boarding school in England. While there he adopted the English name Leslie, in part because he admired Leslie Howard and Gone with the Wind, but also because the name is "very unisex."

Cheung studied textiles at Leeds University, but when he returned to Hong Kong, he did not go into his father's profession. He entered a music talent contest on a Hong Kong television station and took second prize with his rendition of Don McLean's American Pie.

His appearance in the contest led to acting roles in soap operas and drama series, and also launched his singing career. After issuing two poorly received albums, Day Dreamin' (1977) and Lover's Arrow (1979), Cheung hit it big with The Wind Blows On (1983), which was a bestseller in Asia and established him as a rising star in the "Cantopop" style. He would eventually make over twenty albums in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Quickly gaining an enthusiastic fan following, Cheung played concerts in packed theaters, auditoriums, and stadiums. Although never as well known in North America, Cheung drew full houses for his concerts at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 2000, the tickets for which cost as much as $238.

Cheung also embarked on a movie career. His first film was the soft-porn Erotic Dream of the Red Chamber (1978).

In his next film, Patrick Tam's Nomad (1982), Cheung played a young man fixated on his mother. The initial version included a scene in which Cheung's character, clad only in underwear, fondled himself while talking on the telephone with his mother. Hong Kong censors objected, and the scene had to be reshot with Cheung in trousers.

Cheung had a featured role as a rookie policeman in John Woo's 1986 crime thriller A Better Tomorrow, one of the films that established the Hong Kong action genre. He also appeared in the movie's two sequels (1987 and 1989).

Cheung was one of the stars of Stanley Kwan's Rouge (1989). In this stylish drama, he played a young man who falls in love with a courtesan who is dressed as a man when he first encounters her. The young man reneges on a suicide pact with his sweetheart, whose ghost returns to visit him fifty years later.

Cheung also starred in Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild (1990), this time as a callous, womanizing playboy, a role that earned him the Best Actor Prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Shortly after this success, Cheung announced his retirement from his singing career and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia for a short time.

Chen next went to China to make Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine (1993), which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film but was banned in China because of its homosexual theme.

In Farewell My Concubine Cheung played a young actor at the Peking Opera who specialized in women's roles. This was in accordance with the Opera's tradition that all characters, male and female, were portrayed by men. In preparation for his role, Cheung spent months studying the conventional movements and gestures used by the Opera's actors for such parts. He also learned the dialect of Beijing for the film.

Cheung's character in Farewell My Concubine is a boy who is made to chant "I am by nature a girl, not a boy" to prepare him for a career impersonating women. The youth is befriended by one of the Opera's leading men, of whom he becomes enamored. Critic Jay Carr called Cheung's performance the "most affecting and unceasingly fascinating" of the film.

Cheung next appeared in Peter Chan's gender-bending comedy He's a Woman, She's a Man (1995), playing a man who falls in love with a woman disguised as a man.

In Chen Kaige's Temptress Moon (1996) Cheung starred as an unsympathetic heterosexual character, a manipulative, blackmailing gigolo. Although the film was considered somewhat flawed, critic Stephen Holden described Cheung's performance in it as "arresting."

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