Thursday, February 22, 2007

Zhang Ziyi: An Uprising Star

Little Zhang Ziyi

The famous movie star Zhang Ziyi has been hit by a run of fortune. Soon after being selected as a member of the Oscar Awards review committee, Zhang has now become part of the Golden Globe Awards review panel, as news was released from Hollywood during the annual feast which was sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to raise fund for the world film industry. Zhang attended the feast on behalf of the International Film Association.

Zhang Ziyi, the young and vibrant Chinese actress, has seized the hearts of thousands of film fans with her charming smile, and from the day of her very first film, she has been placed at the core of international film circles…

Little Biography

Zhang Ziyi was born in 1979 to an ordinary but studious family in Beijing . Her father is an economist, and mother is a kindergarten teacher. As a child, Zhang was very thin and small. One of her mother's colleagues, upon seeing the delicate girl, suggested that Zhang learn gymnastics. Hence her mother took her to the sports school in Xuanwu district. Unfortunately, no gymnastics class was open that year, so a teacher recommended that Zhangher learn dance. From then on, the eight-year-old girl began to study dance in the Youth Palace of Xuanwu District, and her enlightenment teacher was Tao Jin, a famous dancer.

Three years later, eleven-year-old Zhang Ziyi was admitted to the Affiliated Middle School of Beijing Dance Academy, starting her six-year-long professional study of dance. In 1994, she received the award for folk dance performance during the fourth All-China Youth "Peach and Plum Award" Dance Contest.

Though receiving a national award at such a young age, Zhang never felt complacent. Instead, over time, she strongly felt that for a dancer, the space for development was quite limited. She was not content with being just a dance performer or a dance partner of others. In search for a new footing with greater development space, she hit upon opera and film. Therefore, upon graduating from middle school (equivalent to high school) in 1996, she entered the Acting Department of the Central Academy of Drama.

In the Central Academy of Drama, Zhang's class was hailed as a "stars' class," as all the eight girls in the class were very talented and tended to cut quite a figure on campus performances. Mei Ting (leading actress in A Time to Remember) and Yuan Quan (leading actress in Rhapsody Of Spring) are from the class.

Though the smallest in the class, Zhang was a typical smart girl, and her performing potential was highly appreciated by her teachers. Besides, she was also a diligent student who never minded hardships. She never cared about whether the role she was going to play was beautiful or not, as she was always willing to play whatever kind of roles came to her, be it a grandma or a countryside woman. Moreover, even at that time she could always act any role in a natural and genuine way, which also shows that her later rise to prominence was not a coincidence.

Zhang Ziyi's Star Road: From a Country Girl to Golden Statue Film Empress

All the roles played by Zhang Ziyi -- from Zhao Di in the 1998 film The Road Home (literally My Father and My Mother) to Bai Ling in the 2004 film 2046 --, regardless of their appeal to the audience, have one thing in common: the determination and tenacity unique to Zhang. Perhaps it is fitting that because of such a character,

Zhang has evolved from the countryside girl in The Road Home to a Golden Statue film empress in 2046.

The Road Home : Talent Revealing

In 1998, Zhang Ziyi made her on-screen debut as the mother in The Road Home, a film by prominent "Fifth Generation" Chinese director Zhang Yimou about a love story between two young people in the 1950s. It is said the director chose her mainly because of her pure and naive face and the pair of big eyes, which, in his opinion, are indispensable to the love affair in an age of innocence. Therefore, Zhang Ziyi, dressed in a flowery wadded jacket and a pair of fat trousers and with a strong local flavor, blended herself into Zhang Yimou's beautiful love story.

It was not an easy thing to be an actor in the hands of Zhang Yimou. On the one hand, he required every act of Zhang Ziyi to fit into the role of a countryside girl of that particular age, and on the other, there were few lines for the mother Zhang Ziyi played. Therefore, the mother's image was mostly molded by such simple and similar acts as "running, waiting, and walking." However, Zhang Ziyi's acting was "unexpectedly good." By depending on her body language, Zhang perfectly portrayed the passionate and delicate emotions required for the film.

The film later won the "Silver Bear Award" at the 50th Berlin Film Festival, receiving high marks from the 12 judges of the review committee, who said, "The Road Home is very moving, and it can't be too much for any award."

Since her maiden film was in cooperation with Zhang Yimou, Zhang Ziyi was placed in the spotlight from the very beginning, a higher starting point than others. She has since embarked on a road filled with flowers and thorns, but she truly finds great pleasure in it.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon : A Significant Turning Point

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon , Zhang Ziyi's second film, shot in 1999, is about two legendary women with different family backgrounds during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911): One is a daughter of a rich family whose ambition turns her into a bandit, and the other, a conspicuous woman bodyguard who is a captive of love. Destiny pulls them together. The film features a strong lineup, with Zhou Yun-fat (also Chow Yun Fat), a heavyweight Hong Kong star in Hollywood, as the leading actor and Michelle Yoeh as one of the leading actresses.

In the star-ridden film, Zhang Ziyi also acted one of the leading roles - that of Yu Jiaolong, the daughter of a noble family who is smart, rebellious, and highly skilled in martial arts but who never shows off. Of the three main characters, Zhang's role is the most eye-catching and heavily depicted, hence making it a strenuous task for Zhang to play it well. However, she succeeded, and her performance in the film deeply impressed the audience, who thought her performance even surpassed that of the other two famous Asian stars.

Xu Ke, a famous director of martial arts films in Hong Kong, once commented on Ann Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, "The most conspicuous thing about this traditional martial arts film lies in its achievements in successfully portraying the vivid and perfect image of a woman."

When the film was screened in America in 2001, Zhang Ziyi became the focus of a promotion campaign carried out by the American Columbia Pictures Corporation. In the same year, Zhang Ziyi received the "Award for Future Star" conferred by Hong-Kong Asia Screenings.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon received four big awards, including the "2001 Golden Globe Award" and the 73rd Oscar Award for the Best Foreign Language Film, and Zhang Ziyi has since been a rising star in the international film circles.

Rush Hour 2 : Heading for the International

The great success of Crouching Tiger Hiddern Dragon provided a good opportunity for the inexperienced actress to enter international film circles. The director of Rush Hour 2 , with an eye on the freshness Zhang Ziyi brought to the English world, invited her to join in the shooting. So after her appearance at the 2001 Spring Festival Evening Party (a television program celebrating the Chinese New Year in China), Zhang flew to America to shoot her first Hollywood film -- Rush Hour 2 as the leading actress, in cooperation with Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong and Hollywood star known for his Kungfu films.

In the film, Zhang portrayed a merciless and taciturn female killer and Kungfu master named Kelly Hu. Dressed in black clothes and wearing long straight hair, Zhang vividly portrayed the cruelty and evilness of the killer while showing graceful demeanor in Kungfu fighting. Though Zhang spoke Chinese throughout the film, this does not lessen her attraction to the foreigners, with her performance being acclaimed as the most outstanding in the film. Hence almost overnight, Zhang became one the most popular actresses in the West.

Hero: A Satisfactory Answering Paper

At the same time that Rush Hour 2 was being screened in China, Zhang Ziyi was on the casting team of Zhang Yimou's Hero, marking the actress and director's second cooperation. Li Lianjie, Liao Chaowei, and Zhang Manyu (all famous Hong Kong stars) were also among the cast. Hero was hailed as the first real blockbuster among domestic films and the most ambitious work in the history of Chinese film.

In the film, Zhang acted as the maiden Ru Yue, who carries the sword for her masters, a man and a woman who are highly adept in martial arts.

Regarding the role, she said, "I didn't find a single line of the role until I had turned a dozen pages of the script; it was really a very small role."

But she decided to join the shooting team the moment she finished reading the script, as participation is what she sought. Therefore, although her role was just 15 minutes long, Zhang Ziyi stayed on the team for over half a year, participating in the whole shooting process.

Despite the very small role, Zhang Ziyi's performing skills improved a lot, which was very significant for her. As she said, she found one day, to her surprise, she had learned how to control a role.

Concerning her second cooperation with Zhang Yimou, Zhang Ziyi said by way of an analogy that The Road Home was like a qualification test and Hero an answering paper. Fortunately, the director was satisfied with the paper.

House of Flying Daggers : Fulfilling A Dream

Zhang Ziyi had always dreamed of starring in the role of a blind girl, and her dream came true when Zhang Yimou invited her to play the leading role in his new film House of Flying Daggers (2004).

In the film, Zhang starred as the blind Xiao Mei, the daughter of the chief of a gang, named "Flying Dagger." Hoping to take revenge on those who killed her entire family, Xiao Mei becomes a dancer performer in a dance house and in the process gets involved in a love triangle with the other leading characters.

Though not well received in China, the film was highly praised abroad. On October 9, 2004, Zhang Yimou and Zhang Ziyi, bringing with them the new film, stepped onto the red carpet of the " 42nd New York Film Festival."

The next day, a New York Times film critic said in his film review, "It is an amazing and thrilling film! Zhang Ziyi's performance in the bamboo forest will become a classic shot in terms of the actress' performance, the action arrangement, and acoustic design."

With the screening of Hero and House of Flying Daggers , Zhang Ziyi once again became the favorite of North American audience and film reviewers.

The film was nominated for the "Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film" in December 2004. It not only became a legend in Chinese film history, but also solidified Zhang Ziyi's status in the film circles.

2046: A New Breakthrough

In Wong Kai-Wai's film 2046, Zhang Zifi had her first dance hostess role, that of Bai Ling, who lives in the room 2046. Bai Ling arrives in Hong Kong all by herself, with no one to turn to. In the room next to 2046 lives Zhou Muyun (starring Liang Chaowei), and the story rolls on between the two. In the very beginning, Bai Ling is not serious about her relationship with Zhou, but gradually, she finds herself in love with the man. However, to her heartbreak, Zhou does not want to love any woman.

In order to play the role well, Zhang Ziyi studied in great detail how to be a dancer hostess in the 1960s. She went to ballrooms, trying to figure out the dance hostesses' manner, and practiced dancing in high-heel shoes. Though it turned out she didn't have to dance in the film, she learned from the experience what it feels like to be a dance hostess.

The character Bai Ling is imbued with kind of tragic obstinacy, and what she is confronted with is not moral, systematic, or of society. Zhang Ziyi, while retaining Bai Ling's individuality, well expresses the character's interior conflicts and her inability to change. Zhang's performance in 2046 was hailed as her most wonderful to date, even better than that in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon .

In March 2005, Zhang was given the Golden Statue Award for Best Actress for her performance in 2046 , winning all-round affirmation from the mainstream Chinese film circles with her excellent acting.

Memoirs of a Geisha : A New Challenge

"Challenge = Success" might be the most proper illustration of Zhang Ziyi's acting experience. She is always ready to learn and to play a role of a style different from that of her previous roles. What is worth mentioning is her spirit of always seeking improvement.

In August 2004, the American Columbia Broadcasting Corporation announced Zhang Ziyi would play the leading role of Sayuri in the film Memoirs of a Geisha , which was to be supervised by Spielberg Steven and directed by Rob Marshall. Adapted from a novel of the same name, the film portrays the life experience of a Japanese geisha (a hostess trained to entertain men with song and dance), including her struggles and pains.

Memoirs of a Geisha , slated for release this year, is the first Hollywood film where Zhang Ziyi plays the leading role, and she will have to speak English throughout the film. As she said, a new challenge has begun.

With her success in film acting, Zhang Ziyi's influence and renown is spreading internationally. In April 2005, an American magazine -- Times -- elected Zhang Ziyi as one of the most influential people in 2005, and she is the only Chinese performer to be listed.

While expressing her honor to be listed, Zhang says that as an actress, what she wants to do is try her best to improve her acting skills and provide more and more quality films.

1 comment:

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