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For Tony Leung, ‘Grandmaster’ training was a snap

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Updated: September 28, 2013 6:10AM

As a young boy growing up in Hong Kong, Asian superstar Tony Leung was not allowed to do any martial arts.

“My mother banned it. She would not allow me to study or practice kung fu,” says the man dubbed the Asian Clark Gable. “My mother thought it was just fighting and I’d get hurt.”

His mom has had a change of heart. Leung stars in “The Grandmaster” (opening Friday), the story of martial-arts master Ip Man who eventually trained Bruce Lee.

“This film is about the 4,000-year-old tradition of martial arts. It’s about passing on that passion,” he says. “And it’s not just about training your body. It’s about training your body and your life with the Asian philosophies. It’s about finding that Zen.”

The film has been receiving all sorts of stamps of critical approval, but none better than when Martin Scorsese decided last week to lend his name. He’s now presenting the film. “That really means a lot to me,” says Leung. “I’ve watched all of his Hollywood movies. He’s one of my heroes.”

Director Wong Kar Wai, who also wrote the story, asked his longtime actor-collaborator to star in “The Grandmaster,” butthe physically grueling aspects of the film took their toll on the 51-year-old star.

“It was long and exhausting to train and practice kung fu in your 40s,” says Leung who took the entire year before the film shot to practice three hours a day, six days a week.

Right before the film shot, he broke his arm during a sparring session. “My trainer broke my arm with a roundhouse kick. Everyone was freaking out because we were days away from starting the movie,” he laments.

Doctors warned him not to even practice for three months. “After two weeks, I was back training without my doctor knowing,” Leung says.

“I’ll never forget the first day of filming. Everyone thought I was OK. We were happy to be shooting in China,” he says. “Three hours later during my first action scene, I broke the same arm again in the same place.”

Leung was beside himself. “I was so frustrated and felt bad for the whole team,” he says.

Wong shot around him until four months later when he was given the go-ahead to return to the set. “I guess you really have to listen to the doctors,” he says with a laugh. “I think what made me even better is when I was allowed to train, I was in the gym every single minute.”

In Hong Kong, Leung is best known for his comedy work on TV and in films. He has starred in many movies for Wong Kar Wai including “Chungking Express” (1994) and “Happy Together” (1997). He won a Best Actor Award at Cannes in 2000 for his film “In the Mood for Love.”

“I started this career thinking I’d be a comedian and it has evolved into so much more,” he says.

He’s married to Hong Kong actress Carina Lau and both are hunted by the paparazzi in their country. “I don’t enjoy that part of it,” he says with a sigh. “In Asia, I always leave the house wearing a mask and a hat.”

Brad Pitt, don’t try this at home. “The paparazzi still knows it’s me,” Leung gripes.

Big Picture News Inc.

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