Zhang Ziyi


Zhang Ziyi
▪ 2006

      Young Chinese film actress Zhang Ziyi continued her rise to international stardom in 2005 with her leading role in the epic romance Memoirs of a Geisha, the motion-picture adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling 1997 novel. Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Rob Marshall, the film, which told the story of a famous geisha living in Kyoto, Japan, just before World War II, was only the latest in a series of high-profile projects for Zhang. She had first captured worldwide attention in 2000 in the martial-arts blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in which she played a headstrong young aristocrat with a secret life as a high-flying adventuress. A lithe beauty, Zhang was noted for her physical grace in the film's action scenes and for her solid performance alongside veteran actors Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Directed by Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon captured four Academy Awards and became the highest-grossing foreign-language film ever. It also marked Zhang as an emerging star and one of international cinema's most intriguing new figures.

      Zhang was born on Feb. 9, 1979, in Beijing. Worried about her slight build, her parents enrolled her in dance classes to help strengthen her body. From the age of 11, she attended the Beijing Dance Academy, where she specialized in folk dance. At 17 she successfully auditioned for enrollment at the prestigious China Central Drama College, where she received her first formal acting lessons. While at the college filming a commercial, director Zhang Yimou discovered her and cast her in her first film, The Road Home (1999). The following year he recommended her to Lee for the role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

      The runaway success of Crouching Tiger led to a steady string of film roles for Zhang. She made her Hollywood debut in 2001 opposite Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the action-comedy Rush Hour 2 and had her next big international hit with another Zhang Yimou-directed film, Hero (2002), which told the story of the first emperor of China. She also appeared in Musa (2001), The Legend of Zu (2001), Purple Butterfly (2003), Jasmine Women (2004), and House of Flying Daggers (2004). For her work in 2046 (2004), a science-fiction love story directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, Zhang won best actress at the 2005 Hong Kong Film Awards.

      Aside from Memoirs of a Geisha, Zhang also starred in Princess Raccoon in 2005. Directed by legendary Japanese filmmaker Seijun Suzuki, Princess Raccoon was an elaborate musical adaptation of a Japanese folktale. The film debuted to enthusiastic critical praise at Cannes. At year's end Zhang was in the midst of filming The Banquet; directed by Feng Xiaogang, the film was loosely based on Hamlet and was set for release in late 2006.

Tom Michael

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Universalium. 2010.

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