Teenage Dreamers

Leslie Cheung always had a flare for the dramatic whether in his music, his films or his life and on April 1st 2003 he played out his final performance with his typical biting wit as if to say to the world that this was just a joke – that everything in life was just a sad painful joke. So he goes to the twenty-fourth floor of one of Hong Kong’s finest hotels and jumps to his death. His famous beautiful looks a crumpled mess below. In the film Inner Senses he also stood upon a rooftop peering over the edge in a state of abject depression, but in the celluloid world he received forgiveness and walked away from the abyss – this time there was no one there to forgive him – no one to show him mercy and understanding.
Within hours a city already bruised by an epidemic and economic hard times found more bad news at its doorstep as the word of his death spread. He was more than a legend – he was loved - "Gor Gor"(Big Brother) to everyone. It was more than his music, it was more than his films that inspired this affection – it was simply him – his outrageousness, his charm, his quick smile, his outbursts – his boyish looks that barely aged had made him Hong Kong’s own son. And it never mattered that he could be churlish on occasion or stay out of the public eye for long periods – and as it became known to all that he was gay it still didn’t matter – he was their own and they loved him. He was still the most romantic leading man in Hong Kong with his curling lower lip, his fine clean-cut features, his eyes that could be full of delight or as distant as a long lost lover. In the end though none of the fame or adulation or accomplishments mattered to him – he felt lost and lonely and empty inside and so he chose to end it.
Like many others in the West I woke up to see the news staring me in the face in the cold harsh glare of my computer screen and felt nauseous. And angry. Suicide to me is looking for the easy way out and often intentionally leaves behind a thick layer of guilt and sadness on friends and family and in Leslie’s case literally millions of fans. We all have our periods of utter blackness, but we fight our way through them – that Leslie didn’t angers me – that he gave up saddens me – he should still be here. During the day at work I fought to hold back the tears and wondered why I was feeling so affected. I wasn’t a huge fan of Leslie – maybe it was just the stupid waste of a gifted person – maybe it was that his death in a sense symbolized the end of an era - the Golden Age of HK films that I have come to love. He was an essential part of that magic – A Chinese Ghost Story, A Better Tomorrow, The Bride with White Hair, He’s a Woman, She’s a Man, Ashes of Time – it has meant so much to me and his death made me feel as if something was now missing from that magic and that it would never quite feel the same again.
A few evenings later I watched a few snatches of some of his films – the timid tax collector reeling in his courage to save his ghostly love, the weary lovelorn swordsman pining for a memory, the gender confused songwriter confessing, “Whether you are a woman or a man doesn’t matter. I only know that I love you”, chasing a giant squirming fish with a spiky red haired girl at his side, watching the lush landscape pass by as he slowly dies telling Andy Lau, “I can remember what should be remembered”. I ended up watching the entirety of one of his lesser-known films that I like a lot, Viva Erotica. In it a director played by Lau Ching-wan kills himself in a moment of depression – and later Leslie – who also plays a film director – has a fantasy in which he has a conversation with the dead man and asks him why he did it – and Lau can only respond that he doesn’t really know and that he wishes he could go back in time and stop himself. I only wish that Leslie could do the same.
I had the need to see a film of him when he was young – his final jump over twenty years in the future – and put on the Shaw Brother film from 1982 Teenage Dreamers. I have to admit it wasn’t much of a film – typical teenage heartbreak – and Leslie is in it much less than I had been expecting. Even though he was twenty-six years old at the time, he easily passes for a senior high school student and in truth could have passed for someone even younger. The prime focus of the film is on four female school students who are friends and the film takes in bits and pieces of their lives. One of them – Chow Sau-lan – tries out for the school play and is Juliet to Leslie’s Romeo. They fall in love, hold hands, run on the beach and drink milkshakes. In an interesting turn though Leslie turns out to be something of a hit and run lover – a general heel who doesn’t want to get serious – a role he was to occupy a few times with his sulky demeanor in films like For Your Heart Only and of course in Days of Being Wild. An unmemorable film at most – but Leslie does make an impression – a few searing looks and he is very natural in his few scenes – almost too good to be in such a trifle - and he looks so young.

My rating for the film: 5.0