Zhang is a sexy tough girl who captured hollywood popularity in her outstanding performances in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Rush Hour 2". Zhang Ziyi was born the 9th of February 1979, in Beijing, China, and is the daughter of an economist father and a kindergarten teacher. Raised with her older brother in an urban, working-class part of Beijing, Zhang was originally interested in dance and gymnastics. Her entrance into the dance world came when she was 11, as she was accepted to a secondary school affiliated with Beijing Dancing College. During the 4 years that she was trained in dance, she managed to pick up some awards, including one at the National Young Dancer competition. But even though a career in dance seemed promising for the graceful Zhang, she became frustrated with the art by the time she was 15, and opted to act instead. She therefore enrolled in the Central Drama Academy in Beijing, where she received her dramatic training. Zhang Ziyi's calling was answered when she least expected it. She auditioned for a shampoo commercial, directed by Zhang Yimou (one of China's most renowned directors). The director of many successful film, including Raise the Red Lantern, used the commercial as a way to audition actresses for his upcoming film.
Zhang Yimou knew that Zhang Ziyi was the perfect choice for the part of a young, rural schoolgirl in love with a schoolteacher, and she was cast in the lead role of 1999's The Road Home (also known as Wo de fu qim mu qin). Since Zhang Ziyi was unknown at the time of the film's release, it will be re-released with Sony Picture Classics in 2001 thanks to her flourishing success.
When The Road Home was released in China, Zhang Ziyi was given the nickname "Little Gong Li," in reference to the mega-popular Asian actress, Gong Li. While this may sound flattering, the nickname is not intended to refer to Zhang Ziyi's potential as the next Gong Li, rather, it refers to the alleged affair that Zhang Ziyi had with director Zhang Yimou. Gong Li was once considered the director's muse and mistress, but they broke up in 1994. Both Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Yimou have denied the affair. The Road Home won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival. When Ang Lee was casting actors for his martial-arts marvel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a.k.a Wo ho cang long), he had famous Taiwanese actress Shu Qi in mind for the role of butt-kicking aristocrat Jen Yu. But after seeing Zhang Ziyi's performance in The Road Home, he knew she'd be the one for the role -- and she probably only exceeded Lee's expectations.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became one of the biggest hits of 2000 (and the most popular foreign films in US history), and went on to earn a roaring $130 million at the box office and garner 4 Academy Awards, among the long list of awards it won.
The film's success ensured that Zhang Ziyi would become a familiar face to filmgoers, as the high-flying, graceful martial artist who shares fight scenes with Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat and has sex with Chang Chen in the Gobi Desert. Her role garnered her the Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2000 as well as the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight Scene in 2001. She was also one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, in 2001. Zhang Ziyi was cast to play the villain in the summer 2001 sequel to the successful comedy Rush Hour, appearing opposite the comedy duo Chris Tucker and martial arts supreme Jackie Chan. She was cast in the film without knowing a word of English, and despite having taken English lessons, she speaks strictly Chinese in the film (with subtitles).
She will next be seen in Sung-su Kim's Korean film entitled Warrior (a.k.a Musa), in which she'll portray a princess taken hostage in the period of the war between the Yuan Dynasty and Ming Dynasty, as well as The Legend Of Zu and the futuristic 2046. Zhang Ziyi is also set to co-star with kung-fu superstar Jet Li for the Zhang Yimou epic, Hero.
Zhang Ziyi said: "I don't like to look beautiful. I want to change."
Zhang Ziyi: Earth Angel
Ziyi Zhang's high-flying film career is grounded by inner strength.
If she comes off as a stereotypical China doll, that's because in person Ziyi Zhang (say zee-yee zhang, with "zh" pronounced like the S in "leisure") is small, beautiful and self-effacing, with the giggly air of a high school sophomore.
Onscreen, however, Zhang, 25, is something else entirely: a high-flying martial arts warrior princess who has thrilled audiences in such films as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon;" "Rush Hour 2;" "Hero;" and the new "House of Flying Daggers," in which she plays a mysterious young dancer. She seems so skilled that when a reporter asks Zhang whether she can kick his butt, she replies, "You want to try?" and then laughs uproariously.
Zhang, who despite her independent financial status still lives with her folks in Beijing, faces the biggest challenge of her young career when she stars in her first English-speaking role as the lead in the long-awaited "Memoirs of a Geisha," based on the 1997 best seller. Now shooting in L.A., it's directed by Rob Marshall ("Chicago"). While Zhang's mastery of English is erratic (in this interview, she answers some questions in English, defers to a translator on others), she has devised her own tutorial: "I listen to pop music, like Norah Jones and Alicia Keys."
Zhang didn't plan a film career. Her parents sent her to dancing school because, she says, "I was sickly, and they [wanted me] to train my body." In her late teens, she was discovered by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who cast her in her first film and "Daggers." But it was "Crouching Tiger," in which she plays the karate-chopping daughter of a nobleman, that launched her international star.
Not that success has gone to her head. She says her older brother manages her finances, she doesn't own a car, and when asked to name the most extravagant thing she has done since becoming famous, she says, "My daddy bought 100 copies of the first magazine I was on the cover of and gave one to everyone he knew." Then she giggles.
With no flying kicks, balletic leaps or fierce weaponry, "Geisha" is another milestone for her. One day, Zhang says, "I hope ... I can [portray] a character where people cannot recognize you. I don't like to look beautiful. I want to change."
Yes, she really did say, "I don't like to look beautiful." No mistranslation there.
Zhang Ziyi talks about "Rush Hour 2"
Zhang Ziyi is rapidly emerging one of Asia's brightest stars - not to mention most beautiful. Following me glowing performance in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ziyi will wow international audiences as the main villain in the all-new Rush Hour 2. The beautiful, impeccably attired star, talked to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.
Question: Did you have fun doing this movie?
Answer: Very fun. Because we had a very warm and cute director and also a - cute in the lively sense. And also to have two co-stars that were just amazing, Jackie and Chris.
Question: How was working with Chan?
Answer: Starting off, to me it's a great honour because I am in fact a fan of his too, but I found out working with him that he's highly experienced, highly intelligent and he's not just an actor. He's an all around filmmaker and he was able to help me with all the action sequences and he knew what camera angles were best to get the right scene and be close up or far away wide shot. It was just to me in awe and just an amazing experience working with somebody that is just so all around experience and capable.
Question: How does his style compare to the Crouching Tiger wirework?
Answer: The difference was definitely significant in the sense that the Rush Hour 2 action sequences and the martial artistry is more hand to hand direct contact sort of combative action sequences whereas with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, they were more sort of beautiful artistic shots. They were more choreographed and more artistic and fluid so the feeling is definitely different and the style is different so I was feeling that of course the end result which you'll see on the screen will be different.
Question: How surprised were you by the success of Crouching Tiger?
Answer: I thought it was very surprising, especially when it hit the American audience. It was played in so many theatres and just had such a grand exposure, especially as an artist when I was filming it, nobody really thought to that magnitude and expected what the response and audience reception would be. Then when it was received it was very positive and rewarding to know that the American audiences really took to the scenery and the cinematography and the artistry and the martial arts and the storyline, the dramatic romance and emotional aspects of the film all seemed to be. It was very pleasantly rewarding to know that it was received so well.
Question: Is the acceptance of Chinese culture important to you?
Answer: Yes, to me as an actress and to me as a Chinese, it's very important and to me in every part of all my work, it's very important that I am able to express and convey through the work and through the end product, Chinese culture to the American or the international audience.
Question: Is national acceptance also important?
Answer: I said of course it's very important to me, especially as an Asian film and maybe broadening the American audiences' appreciation and appeal for Asian films, but then given the fact that the Crouching Tiger film is so unique and so complex in its conveyance of the Asian culture, martial arts, story and all that kind of stuff that it may make it so that the appetite is only for that type of film, which would then make it difficult for Asian films to come out because they may not necessarily be of the same type. I hesitate to use the word .calibre' but in terms of as a barrier for the openness to just Asian films as a general versus the same type of vein. And because right now there are a lot of maybe even five, six or seven films in Asian in the works that are sort of titles like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but yet the team may not be so vast and complete and thorough in terms of the directors, the actors and the cinematography and all that kind of stuff which means that they'll come and be on a different level and then the audience would be anxious to see it based on the popularity of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but might be disappointed and then make it sort of hard and difficult and a cheap imitation.
Question: Are you attached to the prequel to Crouching Tiger?
Answer: I hope Ang Lee lets me do it again.
Question: Compare working with Ang Lee to working with Zhang Yimou.
Answer: It was my first film with him, so it was a new experience. It was only my second year in university so it was very enlightening in the sense that he taught me about the filming experience but at the same time he wanted to keep me as natural as possible so he didn't give me the script in advance and pretty much let me be comfortable in me skin. Then each day when I came to set he would explain to me what the scene was about and then allow me to act it out without too much pressure from the night before in terms of having to prepare the lines and everything like that. So, he wanted to really capture me in a natural sense. Working with Ang Lee on the other hand was a little bit different. He was much more meticulous and thorough. A month even before shooting began he had me read the script and memorize the script and then while they were shooting, everything was all planned out, and he had me improvise a lot and in the editing would pick out the scenes that he felt would be appropriate, but it was very well though out and planned and organized.
Question: Did you think about a career in America?
Answer: There wasn't any real sort of thought out plan to want to come and break through into the American market. It was more or less first off the opportunity to shoot Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was purely based on the opportunity to work with Ang Lee. That was the first and foremost reason why I took on that project. And then, from that project onto Rush Hour 2, it was something that I would never have fathomed because I would never have conceived to do a Hollywood western film due to me English language capabilities. But yet when the opportunity came to me, as long as it was something where there wouldn't be too much dialogue intensive of the role, was something that I would definitely be willing and interested to do and I am definitely interested to further develop my career in the Hollywood, Western market but it would all depend on me English definitely.
Question: What do you look for now as an actress?
Answer: No action. I don't want to do any martial arts action. Something without it. I actually am surprised and not really quite cognizant of how it came about that I have picked so many characters that are so action related. It wasn't necessarily something that I had planned, but at the same time in the future if I could do some roles that had a bit of action and then had a bit of serious dramatic roles, I would love to be able to do one and then the kind of a role that maybe had both. It is a trap if I become too identified too much with martial arts, which is why I would want to do more dramatic roles.
Penelope Cruz and Zhang Ziyi imported to present Oscars
Hollywood imports Zhang Ziyi and Penelope Cruz have joined the growing line-up of celebrity presenters at this month's Oscars ceremony.
Zhang, 25, the Chinese star making waves in the United States with roles in films such as Zhang Yimou's Oscar-nominated House of Flying Daggers and Hero, has just finished filming Memoirs of a Geisha.
She has also starred in Hollywood films including 2001's Rush Hour 2 and Taiwanese director Ang Lee's mega-hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which won four Oscars at the 2001 Academy Awards.
Cruz, 30, the Spanish ex-sweetheart of Hollywood prince Tom Cruise, will also hand out one of the statuettes that symbolise cinema's highest honours at this year's Oscar ceremony on February 27.
She has starred in films such as Vanilla Sky, (2001), Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) and Blow (2001) and has just finished making Bandidas, an action comedy co-starring Mexican star Salma Hayek.
Cruz will be seen next in two upcoming movies, Don't Move and Sahara.
Cruz and Zhang join fellow Oscar presenters including Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and famed director Martin Scorsese.
Also handing out statuettes at the 77th annual Academy Awards will be last year's best actress Oscar winner, South African star Charlize Theron and also Renee Zellweger.
Lord of the Rings star Orlando Bloom has also signed on to hand out "golden guys".
Nominations for this year's Academy Awards were announced last week, with The Aviator leading the pack with 11 nominations including best picture, best director and best actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.
The 2005 Oscars will be held in Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.
An Interview with Zhang Ziyi
Speaking with Zhang Ziyi was a bizarre third person exchange, as I would ask a question to her translator, her translator would re-ask the question in Chinese and then translate Zhang's answer back into English for me. The opportunity to speak with the exotic star was on behalf of the film Rush Hour 2, which opens August 3rd. Zhang plays a villain described in the press notes as a suspected henchwoman to a Chinese Triad bomber.
Zhang discussed her work on the film as well as that other famous martial arts movie she was in. All of the following answers come from her translator, Anita Chang, except were noted with "ZZ."
Q: What did you learn from working with Jackie Chan?
She says starting off, to her it's a great honor because she is, in fact, a fan of his too, but she found out working with him that he's highly experienced, highly intelligent and he's not just an actor. He's an all-around filmmaker and he was able to help her with all the action sequences, and he knew what camera angles were best to get the right scene and be close up or far away wide shot. It was just to her in awe and just amazing experience working with somebody that is just so all around experienced and capable.
Q: How does his style compare to the Crouching Tiger wirework?
She says the difference was definitely significant in the sense that the Rush Hour 2 action sequence and the martial artistry is more hand to hand direct contact sort of combative action sequences, whereas with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon they were more sort of beautiful artistic shots. They were more choreographed and more artistic and fluid so the feeling is definitely different and the style is different, so she's feeling that, of course, the end result which you'll see on the screen will be different.
Q: How do you train for cinematic fighting?
Keep fit and learn the moves necessary and just kind of train and exercise a lot. It's not something that she does on a continuous basis, but as a role requires. She has a strong dance background.
Q: Are you looking to have a career in American films?
There wasn't any real sort of thought out plan to want to come and break through into the American market. First off, the opportunity to shoot Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was purely based on the fact the opportunity to work with Ang Lee. That was the first and foremost reason why she took on that project. And then, from that project onto Rush Hour 2, it was something that she would never have fathomed because she would never have conceived to do a Hollywood film due to her English language capabilities. Yet when the opportunity came to her, as long as it was something where there wouldn't be too much dialogue, it was something that she would definitely be willing and interested to do, and she is definitely interested to further develop her career in the Hollywood, Western market but it would all depend on her English definitely.
Q: Are you attached to the prequel to Crouching Tiger?
ZZ: I hope Ang Lee lets me again.
Q: What kind of roles are you looking for now?
No action. She doesn't want to do any martial arts action. Something without it. She actually is surprised and not really quite cognizant of how it came about that she has picked up so many characters that are so action related. It wasn't necessarily something that she had planned, but at the same time in the future if she could do some roles that had a bit of action and then had a bit of serious dramatic roles, she would love to be able to do one and then the other or a role that maybe had both.
Q: What drew you to Hero then?
She's sure it's going to be an amazing film. The script she's read and she's completely falling in love. She said the first time she read it she was crying and then the second time she read it she had to call her friends and talk it over with them. It's just so amazing the script and she just feels that with a script that great, the film can only be spectacular.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" Ziyi Zhang Interview
An actress of almost eerie, otherworldly beauty and simmering intensity, Zhang Ziyi burst onto the international film scene with her role as the governor's daughter in Ang Lee's acclaimed martial arts adventure Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Stunningly convincing despite her lack of martial arts skills, Ziyi's dramatic talents were equally impressive, and she was soon cast in such highly-regarded films as Zhang Yimou's Hero [just released after two years on the shelf] and big-budget stateside efforts as Rush Hour 2.
Born in Beijing to a working-class family that included her economist father, kindergarten teacher mother, and an older brother, Ziyi found creative outlets early with dancing and gymnastics. At the age of 11, she was accepted into a secondary school affiliated with the acclaimed Beijing Dancing College. Though her skills earned Ziyi numerous awards there, she soon became frustrated with the pressures of school and began seeking other creative outlets. At 15, she enrolled in Beijing's Central Drama Academy, where she finally seemed to find her niche. Fate sealed the deal when the aspiring actress auditioned for a role in a shampoo commercial directed by acclaimed filmmaker Zhang Yimou, and after working with her, the veteran director thought her ideal for the lead in his upcoming movie The Road Home (2000). Cast as a young girl who falls in love with an older teacher, the film won international praise, in addition to numerous awards.
If The Road Home had been her breakthrough, her next film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, brought her even more exposure and fame. With few martial arts skills, Ziyi utilized her dancing to perfect the moves needed for the physically challenging role. Though the actress began learning English in hopes of breaking into the Hollywood scene, her first major role in the West, ironically, found her speaking her native Chinese (which was subtitled in English). Parts in such high-profile Chinese features as Zu Warriors and Musa (both 2001) followed, and, in 2002, Ziyi once again stepped before the camera for Yimou in the visually dazzling, historical martial arts drama Hero. In addition to earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Ziyi was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
In 2003, she took the lead for the political drama Purple Butterfly. Later that year, she accepted a supporting role in the popular action comedy sequel My Wife Is a Gangster 2. The actress appeared in no less than three films in 2004, including Wong Kar-Wai's romantic sci-fi drama 2046.
And to add the icing on the cake, as of press time Variety announced that Zhang will star in the Steven Spielberg-produced Memoirs of a Geisha with none other than Chicago Oscar nominated director Rob Marshal at the helm.
Q: What other films have people seen you in here in the United States?
Zhang: I think in 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,' in 'Rush Hour 2' and now in 'Hero.' Then maybe they will know 'House of Flying Daggers.'
Q: When you started, you weren't a martial arts expert?
Q: Did you learn on "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon"?
Q: How do you see your acting career right now? Are you an action star or is that really just a tool for these characters when you're in these movies?
Zhang: I don't want to make just action films. I hope that I can make other films, dramas for example.
Q: Now you're going to star in "Memoirs of a Geisha". Did you pursue an audition for that or did they come to you?
Zhang: I think that about three or four years ago I met Steven [Spielberg] and I remember I couldn't speak any English. I said, 'Hire me, please.' That's what my managers told me to say. For the first day, we had talks together at the studio.
Q: Did you start learning English four years ago?
Zhang: No. Excuse my poor English. I think that when I worked on 'Rush Hour 2,' I didn't know it then. I thought that I should start to learn English and I think that I wasted a lot of time everyday. I think that it's been a year and a half. I thought that I should start to learn English because I want to talk to people.
Q: What is celebrity like in China; do people recognize you on the street, do they ask for autographs, do they want pictures, do you have a bodyguard?
Zhang: I think that it's just a normal life. I still go out with my parents. I go to the supermarket. My mom will shout my name at the supermarket because people, they don't think about it and she'll shout my name and I'm like, 'Oh my God, who is there?' Then I have to say, 'Mom, will you call my nickname or call me little dragon?' [Laughs] My mom is like, 'I'm used to calling you by your name. How can you ask me to change,' and I'm like, 'Okay, okay, okay.'
Q: Is there a tabloid press in China? Are the paparazzi following you and do they make up stories about you?
Zhang: Yeah. In Hong Kong I think that the paparazzi are crazy. They make up stories all the time, and not just about me, but all the people. In Beijing it's okay. Now it's still okay, but I don't know about what will happen later.
Q: How has your life changed with becoming a star because it happened while you were a teenager, and how old are you now?
Zhang: Twenty five. I think that after 'Crouching Tiger' I got more opportunities. I think that I have been lucky that I've worked with all the good directors, they've asked me to work with them. Like right now the movie 'Memoirs of a Geisha,' they're giving me a chance on. I don't know. Maybe it's just more opportunities for me.
Q: 'Hero' was presented as China's answer to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". Did it seem very different to you, the two movies or are they similar?
Zhang: I think that they are different because of the stories and those two directors, they have very personalities. They work in different ways.
Q: Had you ever worked with anyone like Yimou Zhang who was so particular about the visuals?
Zhang: I believe that every director does the same thing. They want everything to be perfect.
Q: Is 'Hero' AND 'House of Flying Daggers' a continued story or two different movies with the same star?
Zhang: Two totally different.
Q: How did you see 'House of Flying Daggers' which has been compared to Italian Opera and 50's musicals, did you feel that at all?
Zhang: I'm not sure what the musicals of the '50's look like. So I'm not exactly sure about that.
Q: But the Italian Opera and the melodramatic aspects of that?
Zhang: It's very different.
Q: What was it like to do that astonishing opening sequence and you're in that dress that is hitting the drums, how long did that take to film?
Zhang: More than two weeks.
Q: Was that done with wires?
Zhang: No. I just used my arm. I practiced for two months.
Q: In the ending when everything turns to snow, how was that to film, was it fake snow?
Zhang: No. It was real snow. But of course it was fake and real put together. It was very cold.
Q: Have you ever been injured while you're training for these movies, and did you have a double ever?
Zhang: I know from 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' they love to watch you do your own action. Also I think that I have the ability to do that. I tell the action director, I say, 'You know, just give me more. I want to do more.' I know that I'm better than before so I can handle more.
Q: What would you say the difference is between 'Hero' and 'House of Flying Daggers' is?
Zhang: The action part I think is more like real. We didn't use a lot of wires. It's face to face.
Q: Now with 'Memoirs of a Geisha,' did you read the book first?
Q: Is the movie very different from the book or very similar?
Zhang: Secret [Laughs].
Q: Rob Marshal took over on that and this is his first film since directing that because Spielberg isn't going to direct. What was it like meeting Rob Marshal for the first time?
Zhang: He's very nice. Yeah. And right now we are working and he always encourages us. In the movie a lot of people cannot speak English and I think that for me I have so much pressure to use a second language to act. That's not easy. He tried to let us relax and not try to put pressure on us.
Q: Sophia Loren said it wasn't until she started dreaming in English that she understood what she was saying in a language that wasn't hers.
Zhang: That's what my teacher told me. She said if you have a dream in your second language you can speak it.
Q: Where are you filming 'Memoirs of a Geisha?'
Zhang: Los Angeles.
Q: Are you just rehearsing right now?
Zhang: We're already shooting.
Q: Gong Li is in this, she's your antagonist in the Geisha House?
Q: How is it working in Hollywood as compared to working in China?
Zhang: In Hollywood, I think, they have a lot more money. There's a lot more than in China. We have our own trailers and we have holidays and of course the working conditions are much better.
Q: So you work five days a week?
Zhang: Five days.
Q: Does Rob Marshal ask you to see the dailies?
Zhang: He doesn't ask us, but they do. They watch it.
Q: It's going well?
Zhang: Yeah. I heard that it was. I think so.
Q: How do you prepare for this, is there a lot of research since it's set during World War II, did you have to know a lot to do 'Hero'?
Zhang: To know the history you mean? I think that it's not really that different. Like 'House of Flying Daggers,' that story could be in the future. It could be western. It's about human relationships. I don't think that the history is important.
Q: But with 'Memoirs', it's very different, right?
Zhang: Yeah. That's why we had long rehearsals. We had to know how they walked, a lot of things. How did they talk.
Q: Do you think that you would've made a good geisha?
Zhang: I'm not a good student.
Q: Do you think that this a cautionary tale today for young women today?
Zhang: Maybe it's both ways. I went to Tokyo and I spent time with some Geishas and I was curious why they wanted to become geishas because of how beautiful they are. They wanted it from the movies or the history. They're proud.
Q: Will these be your first real love making scenes in a movie and how do you feel about that?
Zhang: I guess if you haven't seen the script, it's hard to say. You wouldn't really know and perhaps its best if I wait until the film is out before I tell.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge starring in a Hollywood movie at this point, is it just the language or proving yourself in a whole new arena?
Zhang: I think that for me every time you start a new movie they all have different challenges. This movie of course is a big challenge on so many different things. I think that we worked for four months that I had to focus on work.
Q: Will you keep making movies here?
Zhang: I haven't decided.
Q: Would you ever live here in Los Angeles?
Zhang: I think that I will go back to China. I don't know. I never think about what's next or what I want to do or what I want to play, the next character. I think that something will happen. It'll just happen and not just because you have a dream.
Q: When you get letters from female fans, what do they want to know from you?
Zhang: They always think that I'm very independent and they think that's the best way to keep it. They know that I went to school very early. I went to boarding school at eleven. So they are proud of all that, that I'm an independent girl who works very hard. They think that's great.
Q: When you went to boarding school at eleven, was that to learn acting
Zhang: No, that was for dancing.
Q: So how did you get into movies, was 'Crouching Tiger' your debut?
Zhang: No. My first movie was a Yimou Zhang movie. I fell in love with a teacher who comes from the city. I changed my career because I didn't want to be a dancer for my whole life. I can't see the future, no future. Also, I can't be the best. I didn't want to always be in the background.
Q: So you knew you had a talent in front of the camera?
Zhang: No. I didn't know, but I just wanted to run away from the dancing school and some friend recommended a school and said, 'Maybe you could try.' There were very hard tests that took a week.
Q: With that success you never looked back, and acting is your life now?
Zhang: I think so. When I stand in front of the camera, I know can control myself. Yeah.
Q: What's been the biggest surprise about being a celebrity in the Western world?
Zhang: I think that for me the surprise is one day I got a lot of letters, a lot of letters from different cities in America. They sent them to my agency in L.A. and I thought, 'How come they know?' They sent all the pictures from the magazines, all the pictures that they wanted autographed.
Q: Have you gotten marriage proposals in the mail?
Zhang: No. No. [Laughs]
Q: Do you keep anything from the films you do?
Zhang: All the posters. I think that I kept the red coat from my first movie. I've had it now seven or eight years.
Q: Is there a difference between Chinese movies and Hollywood films?
Zhang: In Hollywood you can count every year a lot of movies. In China there's only a few movies and actually we don't have a lot of choice in China of good subjects, good scripts. There's not a lot of choice. I'm very envious of the actors and actresses in Hollywood because everyday they can get a new script. There are so many great producers and directors. In Asia, I don't think that we have this much chance. So that why I think that 'Memoirs of a Geisha' is such a great chance for all of the Asian actors and actresses.
Zhang Ziyi: Brains and Beauty
Zhang Ziyi isn't a household name in North America, but the movies she has appeared in are. She is the young star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with Michelle Yeoh, in which she put on a spectacular performance that had audiences not only asking who she was, but scratching their heads in amazement.
Her appearance in Rush Hour 2 with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, where she gets to play the "bad guy," does nothing to hurt her exposure. Her performance won't win an Academy Award, but if Rush Hour 2 approaches the domestic take of its first movie ($245 million), her recognition factor will certainly rise.
But back to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger. Though at first glance she seems to be a martial arts expert, she in fact has no acrobatic training besides ballet. She was 19 when the film was shot, and stole every scene she was in with her confidence and raw beauty (but perhaps the reason she stole so many scenes was due to all her kicks, flips, chops, and sword-fights).
In Hong Kong, she is considered the next Gong Li (the most famous actress in the Orien ), and has even earned the nickname Little Gong Li. What is disturbing, though, is that the media in Hong Kong has been anything but supportive of her. The constant scrutiny and apparent jealousy might have destroyed her confidence, but Western countries' interest in her has allowed her to rise above the critics back home. We just wonder why she doesn't use those critics as punching bags?
Zhang attended Beijing's Central Academy of Drama for a year, and began her acting career in the 1999 Chinese drama The Road Home. The rigorous demands of studying gymnastics helped her for the physical requirements of Crouching Tiger, and her mental strength kept her from letting the rigors of a hectic schedule bring her down.
She is an intelligent woman whose skills as an actress will only increase with time. It will take a few years for her development as an actress before we can fully appreciate her talents. It's well known that Eastern Asian society has a fascination with Western Culture, and that Westerners have a fascination with Asian culture, especially the beautiful women. Our voting panel seems to fall into this category, finding Zhang Ziyi a dish that is both sweet and tempting (it must be that whole innocence thing she has going).
Though her career accomplishments are few and her fame limited mostly to Asia, she is still miles ahead of anything we were doing at her age. Among her most notable nominations for awards are: Best Supporting Actress at the British Academy Awards (BAFTA); Female Breakthrough Performance and Best Fight at the MTV Movie Awards.
She is a unique and ravishing beauty that has blossomed physically since her appearance in Crouching Tiger. She is a stunning, fully grown woman now; even People magazine saw fit to include her in their 2001 edition of the "50 Most Beautiful People".
Though she is only 5'5", she seems taller, and has more presence than her small stature would indicate. Zhang Ziyi has a very modern, if somewhat conservative personal style. When the evening calls for it though, she can glam up and hold her own among Hollywood's fashionados.