BLASTING HIS WAY THROUGH dozens of Hong Kong action flicks—as well as American thrillers like 1998's The Replacement Killers
-Chow Yun-Fat, 44, carved out a big-screen image as the killer with a conscience. But it's not just movie bad guys he's slaying. "At an airport four years ago, this group of women came over and kissed him on the lips!" exclaims his wife of 13 years, Jasmine, 39. And as Chow takes on more romantic parts—like the role of the monarch Mongkut opposite Jodie Foster in next month's Anna and the King
—his female fan club is bound to grow. When the movie, a nonmusical version of the story told in The King and I
, began filming in Malaysia earlier this year, castmate Bai Ling was initially stunned by the way "all these girls just follow him." But she soon saw what the excitement was about. During their love scene, she says, "Chow was so handsome, it seemed surreal. He was like a beautiful sculpture." With a dash of Hollywood charisma. "He reminds me of an old-time star, like Cary Grant," says his longtime friend director John Woo. "He has charm like an angel." Certainly his behavior around women borders on the cherubic. The 5'11" Chow (who recently shaved his thick, black hair for Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
) doesn't flirt ("only on the big screen," he says) and never played the field ("A headache!"). When not filming, the Hong Kong-born actor gardens and cooks with Jasmine at their multimillion-dollar Kowloon home. About being a sex symbol, he professes puzzlement. "Maybe," he offers, "people feel that being decent and humble is sexy."