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Actress Zhang Ziyi is China's pride

August 14, 2011

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi is one of the most recognisable movie stars in the world. Best known today for her roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha and Rush Hour 2, there was a time when she thought about quitting acting and doing something else.

A determination to dance

Born in Beijing in 1979, Zhang Ziyi was very slim and athletic as a child, and quickly discovered a determination to become a dancer.

At the age of eight she began taking dance classes and just three years later she was admitted to the Affiliated School of Beijing Dancing Academy, beginning six years of intense dancing study – specialising in Chinese folk dance and winning a few prizes in a national folk dancing contest.

However, after her early success she became bored and began to think about another career. The first alternative that came to mind was acting. At the age of 18, she took the admission test for Beijing’s Central Academy of Drama and successfully passed, entering the best college for acting where many famous actors have studied, such as Gong Li, Jiang Wen and Tang Wei.

Her initiation into the world of acting came when she was cast for TV commercials in Hong Kong.

First foray into movies

The first year of college was a nightmare for Zhang. She did not show any talent for acting and lost motivation after her poor performances. Zhang even thought about quitting the school and doing something else.

Her first proper acting role was in Touching Starlight, directed by Sun Wenxue. The 1996 low-budget movie was made for television and released on video. For many years, the film was not available with English subtitles, but as Zhang’s popularity grew that was remedied.

In her second year, Zhang was selected by renowned director Zhang Yimou to play the main role in The Road Home. In the film, she plays a village girl with a pure hope for finding true love. In the wake of the movie’s success, Zhang became a household name in China and [the movie] won the Silver Bear prize at the Berlin Festival for her performance.

After her breakthrough success in The Road Home, director Zhang Yimou recommended her to Ang Lee for a role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The role in the movie required a great deal of kung fu skills and fortunately Zhang’s training in folk dance was of great help learning the advanced techniques required.

Her performance as the almond-eyed siren Jen Yu in the visually-stunning fantasy epic won her prizes at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Toronto Film Critics Association Awards and Independent Spirit Awards, as well as nominations at the BAFTAs, Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards.

Acclaim and turmoil

Despite her young age, Zhang Ziyi has already achieved huge success in the world of cinema, cementing her status as one of the biggest Chinese movie stars of the 21st century.

After the international success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang appeared in The Legend of Zu, Musa and Rush Hour 2. She could not speak any English before filming the Rush Hour sequel with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, but her Chinese co-star was there to help and interpret everything director Brett Ratner was saying.

Just four years later, in 2005, she made her English-language film debut playing Sayuri Nitta in Memoirs of a Geisha, a film produced in international markets before being introduced in China. Her role in director Rob Marshall’s period drama won her even wider acclaim, as well as nominations for a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress.

In Zhang’s latest film Til Death Do Us Part, she teams up with actor Aaron Kwok. While shooting the 2011 movie, Zhang Ziyi experienced some turmoil in her personal life and on top of that, a financial crisis. She has been quoted as saying that the movie was not just a work project or a role for her, instead, it came to represent an entire period of her life. The film opened in China on May 10, 2011.

Despite her young age, Zhang Ziyi has already achieved huge success in the world of cinema, cementing her status as one of the biggest Chinese movie stars of the 21st century.

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