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Ten leading men who gave those of us not named Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp reasons to celebrate again...
1. Zhang Yimou
As Zhang Yimou entered his post-Gong Li period, many questioned if he still had the ability to entertain audiences on a global scale. In the U.S., Happy Times, Not One Less, and The Road Home received miniscule screen time; Keep Cool wasn’t even released. Then in 2004, Zhang Yimou struck back with a vengeance, with Hero opening at number one, and House of Flying Daggers becoming an arthouse hit. Time’s Richard Corliss named both as tied for the year’s best, and Zhang won Best Director from the National Society of Film Critics. News that Zhang’s next project is a small art film is proof that mainstream success won’t keep him from experimentation.
-- Brian Hu
2. Tony Leung
More striking than outright handsome, too sullen to be suave, Tony Leung nevertheless gets under your skin by virtue of his dead-on sobriety -- no ego-stroking or bad-boy posturing, just nuanced, naked self-expression. During a profilic career, Tony has long branded himself an accidental martyr, and 2004 was no different: first, he was the ineffectual assassin Broken Sword in Zhang Yimou's Hero and later, Infernal Affairs’ (metaphorical) lamb led out to slaughter. The last word, however, belonged to Tony the lover, reprising his role as novelist Chow Mo Wan in the enrapturing 2046. A tale of two Tonies? Certainly among the best of times in '04.
-- Chi Tung
3. Andy Lau
When you begin your career as one of the “4 Kings” (fancy verbiage for teen-pop heartthrob), no one expects you to become a real, live…actor. And not just one who cut his teeth on chewing scenery either; Andy rubs shoulders with stalwarts like Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung -- the former, he locked eyes with in the swirling dervish House of Flying Daggers, the latter became his arch-nemesis in the Infernal Affairs trilogy -- without missing a beat. Nor is he done yet: after taking home the highly coveted Golden Horse Award (China’s Oscars equivalent) for best actor, Andy the actor/singer intends to try his luck as Andy the filmmaker.
-- Chi Tung
4. Wong Kar-Wai
Michael Moore stirred the most controversy at Cannes and Quentin Tarantino was its trusty ringmaster, but Wong Kar-wai was the life of the party, arriving fashionably -- no, seductively -- late with his entourage of stars from China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan. Whether his latest film, 2046, succeeded or not seemed hardly the issue; he had become a rare thing among Asian filmmakers: an auteur as celebrity. That the big joke was that 2046 referred to the release date rather than the title of his film proves the extent to which his notoriety had become intertwined with his famous aesthetic principles, placing Wong in a league with Chaplin, Hitchcock, and of course Tarantino and Moore. That a film as experimental as 2046 became the year's most talked-about film among the aesthetically conservative East Asian mainstream is good news for fans who can thus expect more daring in the years to come.
-- Brian Hu
5. Takeshi Kaneshiro
Oh, Takeshi Kaneshiro: he just has a certain je ne sais quois about him, doesn't he? At 31, age has been good to him, and we're glad his slightly embarassing, dreamy teenybopper phase is behind him. His eclectic acting choices have earned him respect, and in 2004, international audiences were finally able to appreciate his magnetic screen presence in House of Flying Daggers, where he proved himself a potent match for Zhang Ziyi, impressively making us forget about that other guy in the movie (ed. note: who just so happens to be ranked two spots higher). But it's the wide-eyed passion, striking features, and endearing boyish sincerity that gets us each time, even when he's playing a stupid playboy that calls himself Wind -- especially when he's playing a stupid playboy that calls himself Wind.
-- Ada Tseng
6. John Cho
Who else could make a combination of fat-laden mystery meat and overly processed carbs into a household name? If you didn’t guess John Cho, you were wrong. Born in
-- Genevieve Wong
7. Won Bin
While the Korean actor Won Bin has been a huge box office draw for years, 2004 was especially momentous. With the commercial success of the summer blockbuster Taegugki: The Brotherhood of War, recognition of his acting skills has reached an ever-wider international audience. His earlier appearances -- in the 1997 dramas Propose and Our Story --helped hone his acting chops, and his role as a playboy in the wildly successful drama, 2000's Autumn Fairy Tale, landed him on the A-list for Korean performers. He’s also had roles in several popular movies, including Guns and Talk and My Brother, but it is his portrayal of the sensitive younger brother in Taegukgi that has truly cemented his fame in the international realm.
-- Jennifer Flinn
8. Tony Jaa
There’s a buzz in the world of stuntmen and martial artists not heard since the likes of Jackie Chan, and his name is Tony Jaa. Jaa is aerodynamics personified and liquefied, descending upon his combatants with such ease and fluidity that the cynic in you immediately starts looking for the wires which dangle him in mid-air. But here’s the shocker: what you see is what you get. Offscreen, there are no smoke and mirrors, no newfangled devices to help brace the fall. What goes up must come down -- but Tony Jaa decides where and when.
-- Chi Tung
9. Yuya Yugira
And a child shall lead them -- 12-year-old Yuya Yugira skipped a few steps in the prodigy handbook and rose straight to the cream of the 2004 Cannes Festival crop, besting a stiff field of competitors to snag the prestigious best actor prize. His must-see performance in Nobody Knows as the oldest, most responsible sibling showcases a staggering range of emotions and a totally un-self-conscious intimacy with the camera. The new face of Japanese cinema, even if he's still a boy among men.
-- Chi Tung
10. Choi Min-shik
Choi Min-shik has always been one of the great veteran actors of Korean movies, but while there's been wide recognition of his skills, it wasn’t until Old Boy hit the international scene that he won the fame he truly deserves. Especially well-known for playing toughs and gangsters, he’s had roles in major films such as Failan, Chiwhaseon, and Swiri. Old Boy was no departure, as he portrayed a man who goes on a hunt for revenge following an unexplained 15-year incarceration. The edgy film went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed movies from Asia last year, due in large part to Choi’s spectacular performance.
-- Jennifer Flinn
Other men of honor: Jay Chou, Kal Penn, Beat Takeshi, Greg Pak, Kim Di-Duk, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Watanabe, Chen Dao-Ming, Stephen Chow, Jet Li.
Date Posted: 1/13/2005