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Zhang Ziyi: New Godzilla film 'eye-opening' experience

May 31, 2019   |   Written by Zhang Rui

Internationally-famed Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi believes her role in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” has depth and that the filming process is an “eye-opening” experience, although she didn’t actually see the real monster.

“As a Chinese actress, it was quite an eye-opening experience to participate in a film of such scale,” said Zhang during an interview in Beijing on May 14. She and director Michael Dougherty, actresses Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown attended the Chinese premiere the day before. She was later due to fly to Cannes, Los Angeles and other international cities for more promotional events.

She is grateful that director Dougherty respected her and her role, and gave her a big space and freedom for her to fully develop the character.

“My character is a little complex, she is not the symbolic role which I feared I would be getting, which would have been a waste of time,” the actress said, adding she was able to enrich the role after she and the director had some good exchanges.

Zhang plays a scientist working for a secret crypto zoological agency known as Monarch, as well as her twin sister, both of whom inherit their family’s psychic ability to connect with the monsters. Unlike Chinese actress Jing Tian’s brief appearance in “Kong: Skull Island,” Zhang’s scenes in the new film make up an important part of the storyline. In the film, her research on Chinese myths about Chinese dragons proves significant in human efforts to help Godzilla fight its rival monsters and protect the world.

However, as with her fellow actors, she never actually saw any real size monsters, not even a puppet and other props. “We have to use our imagination,” she explained.

By using wind machines, artificial rain, smoke as well as music to simulate scenes that feature the monsters in the film, the director created the right atmosphere to allow the actors and actresses to perform.

“Automatically, your adrenaline lifts, your blood pressure rises and your pulse quickens,” said Vera Farmiga. “At the same time, we had a narration explaining what we were seeing. During the quiet moments of a scene, we had someone narrating the very details of what we were watching, to the point of even describing an animal’s emotional state.”

Dougherty added that the shooting “was almost like doing a stage play, by creating all these tools to help the actor’s imagination and reactions.”

“It is a challenge for me to do this film, the role is too far away from my real life. But, I love the challenge. If it is not such a challenge, I would rather not accept the role,” said Zhang. “However, the most important reason for me to agree to do it is because I can learn more from Hollywood.”

Zhang soared to international fame through Ang Lee’s Academy-winning film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000 and later starred in “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005. Chinese films “Hero” and “The Grandmaster” starring Zhang also won international acclaim. However, the visual effects offered by a blockbuster like “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” proved new and fresh for her.

To best portray the character, Zhang worked very hard to discover and understand the role’s history, family and background. “In a monster film, every human actor is just a supporting actor for the monster clash. I had to fully understand how a human actor should cope with the limited time and space to convey the most accurate performance.”

Dougherty said, “I’ve always liked the messages in Godzilla that have evolved over time. And his message has now evolved to reflect the current era of climate change.” The film franchise conveys in-depth messages about human’s anxieties, and “Godzilla steps into correcting any species that might threaten our planet, whether this threat is from a monster or human beings.”

Brown added the film will raise public awareness about protecting nature.

This latest offering from Warner Bros. in collaboration with Legendary Pictures was released to Chinese theaters nationwide from May 31. The Chinese company Shanghai Huahua Media also invested in the project.

The film, a sequel to the 2014 film “Godzilla,” tells the story of Monarch’s efforts to save humanity as monsters fight for supremacy. These monsters from the Godzilla franchise originate from the Japanese film studio Toho’s productions between 1954 and 1964, which form part of pop culture around the globe. The 2014 film “Godzilla” grossed more than 480 million yuan (US$70 million) in Chinese mainland cinemas. The new installment is aiming to surpass the 1-billion-yuan (US$144.68) mark at a record pace.

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