Remembering a big screen iconKurt Cobain (1967-1994), the singer of the seminal, American rock band Nirvana, shot himself to death. Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), the German actress and symbol of sensual beauty, reportedly killed herself with sleeping pills. Last Tuesday, which happened to be April Fool’s Day, Leslie Cheung, 47, an Asian celebrity, actor and singer, plunged to his death, leaping from the 24th floor of a hotel. According to the local police, the contents of his suicide note indicated Mr. Cheung was heartbroken over a love triangle, and decided to take his life.
Although Mr. Cheung’s fame was not well-known outside of Asia, within Asia ― Korea included ― he was an icon, an a par with Mr. Cobain or Ms. Dietrich. “Mr. Cheung was more than a simple actor,” says Kim See-moo, a local movie critic, “he was the symbol of rebellious yet fragile youth in Asian movie history.” With the news of the suicide, the local media are busy creating Cheung specials, while Mr. Cheung’s fans are cherishing their memories of the star on the Internet.
Born the youngest of 10 children in a well-to-do Hong Kong family, Mr. Cheung made his debut as a singer, then cemented his fame by starring in the John Woo film “A Better Tomorrow” (1985). His performance as a policeman who has to bust his gangster brother made him a rising star, and soon after, a full-fledged heartthrob.
Since the 1990s, Mr. Cheung started to make a name for his talent in acting as well as his looks. His notable works include “Farewell My Concubine” (1993), directed by Chen Kaige, and “Happy Together” (1997), directed by Wong Kar-wai. In both films, Mr. Cheung portrayed a man in love with another man. Indeed, he was one of Asia’s few openly bisexual actors.
Mr. Cheung even starred in a local Korean TV commercial for a brand of chocolates. Mr. Cheung’s sweet and gentle voice and face enslaved the young hearts of the peninsula. Korean young women started to carry photos of Mr. Cheung, while men followed in everything that was Mr. Cheung: hair, clothes and style. Lee Hyuk-seung, a 24-year-old college student, vividly remembers his adoration of Mr. Cheung. “From my early teens, he was my idol,” Lee says. “I had my hair always done in the Cheung style.”
Park Hyun-jin, 22, is flying to Hong Kong today to attend Mr. Cheung’s funeral Tuesday, despite the respiratory disease sweeping the region. “A mere malady is not enough to stop me,” she says. “I have to see that my darling Leslie is dead, or I just can’t believe it.”
Ms. Park adds: “My first love died. So did my youth.”
by Chun Su-jin