Hong Kong actor and singer Leon Lai is a Cantopop icon and one of the "Four Heavenly Kings" who dominated the Chinese-language market in the 1990s. Born Lai Chit in Beijing, China, he later changed his name to Lai Ming, the stage moniker for which he is best known to generations of fans, including successors to his musical throne like Leehom Wang, JJ Lin, and Jay Chou.
Lai's parents divorced while he was young, and his father raised him in Hong Kong. He attended high school in the U.K. and, after graduation, returned to Hong Kong in 1984. The crooner's first brush with show business came two years later when he placed third in the fifth annual New Talent Singing Awards. While his music career took a few years to kick in, the New Talent exposure helped Lai secure a number of acting roles, mostly for television series that aired in Hong Kong and Taiwan. His first major film role was 1987's Mr. Handsome. While his television and film work overlapped into the early '90s, he would devote his thespian efforts entirely to movies by the mid-'90s.
His first foray into the Cantopop realm came in 1990 with the release of Leon (Polygram). The album earned Lai a Best Newcomer award and was the first of over 40 albums and compilations released in that decade alone. Delivering adult contemporary love songs and lighthearted dance numbers, Lai became one of the most popular Asian performers, joining the ranks of the so-called "Four Heavenly Kings" along with Aaron Kwok, Andy Lau, and Jacky Cheung. In the prolific Mando- and Cantopop market, Lai churned out a consistent string of hits throughout the '90s, notably "There's Not One Day I Don't Think of You," a 1994 nominee for Song of the Year; his duet with Vivian Lai, "A Happy Family"; "Just Love Me for One Day," 1997's winner of Song of the Year; 1998's "If I Can See You Again"; and his techno-pop karaoke staple, "Sugar in the Marmalade," from 1999's Leon Now.
Balancing his superstar singer status with a burgeoning film career, Lai received a nomination for Best Actor for his role in Comrades: Almost a Love Story at the 1996 Hong Kong Film Awards. He won for Best Original Song in both 1998 and 1999 for his contributions to the films Eighteen Springs and City of Glass. He would star in over 40 movies into the 2000s, the highest grossing of which include The Banquet (1991), The Magic Touch (1992), City Hunter (1993), Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996), Killing Me Tenderly (1997), God of Gamblers 3 (1997), and Sausalito (2000). He won a Best Actor award for Three: Going Home at 2002's Golden Horse ceremony, the Taiwan equivalent of the Oscars. His most successful role to date was for the third installment of the crime thriller series Infernal Affairs, which grossed over 30-million HKD at the Hong Kong box office in 2003. The next year, Lai starred opposite fellow pop legend Faye Wong in Leaving Me, Loving You, which he produced and co-wrote.
By 2010, Lai would add almost 20 more albums to his discography, including Fireworks, a double-disc collection of old favorites and new recordings, which featured a duet with actress Ziyi Zhang on the theme song for Chen Kaige's Forever Enthralled.
In 2016, Lai celebrated 30 years in music with a series of anniversary concerts in Hong Kong dubbed Random Love Songs 4D, which saw Lai performing in the center of a specially constructed arena surrounded by thousands of fans. ~ Neil Z. Yeung, Rovi