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China Doll: Turning Faces, Drawing Raves!

September 01, 2001   |   Written by John Steven Soet

Bright, articulate, talented and elegant, beyond her years. It’s no wonder Zhang Ziyi has found success in America.

“We had to have her,” says Rush Hour producer Arthur Sarkissian. “the moment we saw her in ‘Crouching Tiger’, we wanted her to be in Rush Hour 2. Originally, there was no role for her, and the villain was a man. We rewrote this character as a beautiful young yoman so we could give it to Zhang Ziyi.”

It was on the set of Rush Hour 2 that IKF caught up with the cinema’s newest lady. After a wait of nearly two days because of a hectic schedule, she entered, looking as if she had just stepped out of a scene in one of her films. The air seemed electrically charged, with all present sensing the energy shift in the room as the youthful star entered. With a charming giggle and endearing smile, she conveyed her answers through an interpreter, her speakling personality evident even as she spoke in her native Chinese dialect.

Inside Kung-Fu:
You’ve worked with the two top Asian action stars in the world, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat. How would you describe this experience?

Zhang Ziyi:
Overwhelming! I grew up admiring both of them, and to have actually worked with both of them is like a dream come true.

IKF:
Are they very different?
ZZ:
Well, of course, different people have different personalities. Chow Yun Fat is more quiet and reserved, Jackie’s more outgoing and has a very spontaneous sense of humor. But they’re both masters of their craft. When the cameras are rolling, there is 100 percent dedication. I also considered it a tremendous responsibility to be working with both of these men. Here I am, a beginner, working with the best there is. I had to be very diligent to be worthy of this honor. IKF:
Did you always want to be an actress?

ZZ:
No, when I was younger I wanted to be a teacher. Then I became a dancer, and that led to a career in acting.

IKF:
On some web sites, it says that you had a very difficult childhood, and you ran away from home.

ZZ:
(Laughs) You have to be so careful about what you read on web sites. There are no controls for web sites and people can make things up. This information is completely wrong. I had a very good childhood and terrific parents. The truth is that when I was 11 I did run away from the dance school. I don’t know what I was thinking — I was only 11. But later on, as I matured, I accepted the fact that I was there out of choice, I made the decision to go of my own free will, and I had to accept the strictness of the training that was a part of that lifestyle.

IKF:
Although Rush Hour 2 hasn’t been released yet, we know it’s going to be a major hit. “Crouching Tiger”, of course, is already a film legend. How do you feel about the two films that exposed you to Western audiences being not just successful, but major hits?

ZZ:
Incredibly lucky.

IKF:
Do you have any martial arts or wushu training?

ZZ:
No, I can’t claim to. I was a dancer for six years.

IKF:
But you looked so spectacular in “Crouching Tiger”.

ZZ:
It was just my dancing background. A lot of the Chinese action stars aren’t fighters, but they train in theatrical wushu. I was able to pick up the moves because I was a dancer (At this point, one of the American women in her entourage speaks up: “Excuse me, she’s being very, very modest. She wasn’t just a dancer, she was the national champion.” After a brief exchange of words in Chinese, she laughingly confesses that it’s true.)

IKF:
In Rush Hour 2 you play the villain?

ZZ:
Yes.

IKF:
Did you enjoy it?

ZZ:
Of course. Jackie Chan has always been my idol, and the opportunity to work with him is incredible. And since I’m not really what you’d call “bad,” I wanted the role, I wanted to accept the challenge and see if I can come across as sinister and scary. I also like it because it will show if I can be versatile.

IKF:
Have you ever seen a character in a movie and thought, “I wish I could have played this character?”

ZZ:
The truth is no, and the reason is I haven’t seen that many films, particularly American films. Again, it’s the language thing. If my English were better, I’d be able to have a better appreciation of American movies.

IKF:
What do you think of the U.S.?

ZZ:
It’s very exciting and fun, and it’s like being in a different world from what I’ve seen. Everybody treats me so nice here — I wish I could speak the language better.

IKF:
Have you already decided what will be your next film?

ZZ:
Yes, it starts filming in July of 2001. It’s called Heroes, and it’s about the first Emperor of China. A historical piece.

IKF:
Are you considering a career in American films?

ZZ:
I’m a realist. I learned when I was a very young child that it’s good to have ambitions, but to be flexible and realistic and set short-term goals. The truth is that right now, it’s not realistic to talk about American movies because my English isn’t good enough. To have any ambitions one way or the other, to be able to make an intelligent decision like that, I would have to be fluent in English. So until I improve my English, I can’t give it much consideration.