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The Real Zhang

September 21, 2008
Zhang Zi-yi’s meteoric rise to fame has captivated audiences worldwide and she is undoubtedly one of China’s most recognizable stars. This candid beauty talks to Macau Tatler about her life.

Zhang Zi-yi is at the pinnacle of her movie career. in one short decade, she has become a world-famous star, and one of the most celebrated Chinese actresses in history. And it seems there is no limit to how high she can climb. The 29-year-old actress hit the ground running when she was handed the lead role in My Parents. The 1998 film, directed by the celebrated Zhang Yi-mou, was an instant success and made Zhang famous practically overnight. The following year, she took centre stage again as Yu Jiao-long in Ang Li’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which catapulted her to international stardom. And her career has been blessed ever since, with golden opportunity after golden opportunity. She has worked with a host of renowned directors, including Xu Ke, Wong Kar-wai, Lou Ye, Hou Yong, Feng Xiao-gang and Steven Spielberg and boasts a filmography that is the envy of her peers -The Legend of Zu, Rush Hour, The Warrior, 2046, Jasmine Women, House of Flying Daggers, The Banquet, and Memoirs of a Geisha, among others. Zhang has won a host of awards, including a Hong Kong Film Award for her role in 2046, and been nominated for a Golden Globe for her part in Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as several baftas. Macau Tatler caught up with her after the 11th Shanghai International Film Festival on the 25th floor of Shanghai’s Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Macau Tatler: Your entourage is notable by its absence. Who are your closest allies?

Zhang: I am very lucky to have Ling Lucas [her agent] as my good friend. We have known and worked togetheut on the questioners themselves. In such times, with access to the internet and quick exchange of information, it is too ignorant. But most Westerners still crave the Orient.
MT: You have been a big hit in society circles in the US. Why do you think everyone was so quick to accept you?

ZZ: My character makes it. You have to deal with different people and play different roles, especially in our circle; I have a bright personality and find it easy to communicate with people. But, more importantly, I think it’s because I’m Chinese and a kung fu girl, so people are curious about me.

MT: On that subject, has the physicality of kung fu had any lasting effects on your body?

ZZ: For six years, I trained like the military, and troubles with my cervical vertebrae are related to that. I still suffer every day from an injury I got doing acrobatic fighting, and I have to have frequent massages and lie immersed in hot water to release the pain.

MT: You always seem to get it right on the red carpet. Do you have a stylist?

ZZ: No, I select my own jewellery and style. I have naturally formed my own style. I know the dress code and use my head. I’ll select the proper dress for different occasions. For example, when I went to Greece to see the Olympic Holy Fire, I wore qipao because I was representing China, not myself; when I was fundraising in Cannes, I was dressed in black to look solemn; and when I attended the Shanghai film festival after the Sichuan earthquake, I didn’t wear a backless dress.

MT: You have done an admirable job raising funds [seven million yuan]for victims of that disaster. How has the experience changed you?

ZZ: The earthquake allowed me to grow up and discover my influence and power. Now, I feel a sense of responsibility. At first I felt shy to open my mouth because I’ve never asked for anything from others due to the influence of my Chinese culture. But all my foreign friends encouraged me and told me I was doing the right thing.

MT: What do you do when you have down time?

ZZ: I like playing with my little niece, who is only two years old, and very lovely. That’s the pleasure of life. One’s desires vary at different stages of life. I yearn for a family like everyone else.

MT: Talking of the future, what do you see?

ZZ: It’s always been my goal to get married and have a baby because family is very important for a woman. And maybe I’ll become a director some day, who knows?