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Reminiscence of my First Interview with Zhang Ziyi

July 01, 2000   |   Written by Xie Xiao

Self-Appraisal of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Would you mind doing a self-critique of your performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Did you have any pressure working with international mega-stars, Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh?

Zhang Ziyi: I believe my performance did not disappoint Ang Lee. Definitely, there was tremendous pressure, for Ang Lee had chosen Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh – trusted them a lot. On the other hand, they were also under stress having to speak Mandarin in the movie. That his choice of me was a gamble was due to the fact that he did not know me well, not having seen my films. I heard that they wanted to cast Shu Qi initially, but for whatever reasons that eluded me, they signed me up instead. The other actresses vying for the same role and I underwent 10 days of training. He became more familiar with me and eventually selected me. (Why wasn’t Shu Qi employed?) No idea, perhaps due to schedule problems. (Why were you chosen?) He wished to use someone new. (Was he satisfied with your performance?) I worked very hard in this movie. He had also praised me and was happy with me. He was aware of my tension, and there were times when I cried. But he found that I was getting better, and could act well. (Never seen her crying, only smiling. If everyone has seen how hard she toiled, they would perhaps not be criticising her without any discretion.)

Do you wish to work with Ang Lee again in your next movie?

Zhang Ziyi: Of course I wish to work with great directors. It’s great working with them. They enable me to switch into the mood directly, without meandering about. ‘Wonder if they have prepared their next movie, for I hope to have the chance to work with them again. However, my mother has already given me an order not to shoot wuxia movies again. It was too dangerous. Thence, my mom saw me doing the most perilous action in the movie. I feel that everyone has great capacity for learning, for I only learned swimming and horse-riding at the eleventh hour. I was fearful of water but for the sake of my role, I had to do it. The stunt double that I had was of not much help, becoming my coach instead.

Could you talk about your feelings on working with Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh?

Zhang Ziyi: Both are international mega-stars. I respect them a lot. Michelle Yeoh gave me a lot of aid in wushu. She selflessly imparted her years of knowledge and experience to me. She did not worry that I would steal the limelight from her. She was assertively confident, powerfully charming and persuasively charismatic. Her magnanimity let me witness the charm of an international mega-star. I was so touched I almost cried. When I was worn out, she would buy peaches for me. When my socks were torn and my feet hurt, she would buy new socks for me.

Chow Yun Fat was very friendly too. He did not put on the airs of a big shot, and took good care of me. There was a scene – the bamboo scene – where I was very scared, in so far as wanting to weep. Chow Yun Fat hummed me a song to soothe me. I have learned a lot from them: their personalities, handling of matters and approaches to work. They became my models, it was something not possible to learn in school.

Could you do a comparison of your acting ability in The Road Home and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon?

Zhang Ziyi: I did my best to depict my roles in the two shows. The characteristics of the two films are entirely different. The Road Home is a reflection of real world. There was no need to recite the lines; I memorised them within a week. On the other hand, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon forges a character that you don’t see in everyday life. I had to understand the personalities of the various characters in the book and the people next to me and it required vast imagination and skills to portray such a character. (Were you being yourself in the former?) You can’t really put in in that way, for the running in the movie and the gesticulations were not what I do normally in my daily life. It was difficult showing the feelings without any lines, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was even more difficult.

Which do you think you performed better?

Zhang Ziyi: Both are fairly successful. It’s too early to make a conclusion now. Shooting of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has just ended. Whether it is successful or not, it is but a process of growing up. I do not fear failures, I am still young, and do not know much, I can learn again. It might be better to assess the two movies five years down the road.

Having collaborated with the three major directors, Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee and Tsui Hark, you have gained a higher starting point. Would it bring about pressure to your future developments?

Zhang Ziyi: Dare not think about it. I am still young. Failure serves as a groping towards success. However, having a higher starting point, it would be much tougher if I did not do well. I am willing to work with many directors, even those not famous, but the script must be good. (Do you wish to work with the sixth generation directors?) Yes! For example, Wang Xiao Shuai, Jia Zhang Ke, Zhang Yuan, Zhang Yang, etc. I have seen their works, they have lots of good ideas, and it would be relaxing working with them; our thinking, ideas, whims and fancies would be closer. They have plenty of potential, and are very talented.

Do you have any plans for the future?

Zhang Ziyi: I do not have any plans. Neither have I thought of getting awards, or being crowned the Queen of Movies. I only want to do things pragmatically. (Would you be a singer?) No, ‘do not have the energy. I strive for perfection in whatever I do. I love movies, the discovery of new feelings when in front of camera.

What do you think you lack most?

Zhang Ziyi: Society experience, and the ups and down of life. The route I trek on is pretty smooth, there is nothing particularly sad or happy. So, I often read many books to enrich myself, to gain something.

What do you think are the prerequisites to being a good actor or actress?

Zhang Ziyi: Able to handle different roles with aplomb, and a good imagination. Actress should also have strong willpower, be willing to learn. I benefited much through shooting martial arts movie, it dug out my potential in this area.
 

Taboo of Shooting Soap Operas

It appears that there is an unwritten prohibition that Zhang Yimou’s female leads do not shoot TV series. Do you have such a taboo?

Zhang Ziyi: No. Actually Zhang Yimou hopes that I would do drama serial, so that I would become a household name. However, many TV stars, after having become famous, want to shoot movies. Since I have such an opportunity, I shouldn’t let go of it. As for directors, they can opt not to shoot TV series. But to an actor or actress, they are but a show, and there is no such problem as lowering their status. The most popular idols in Japan act in TV series, those who are more famous than me are acting in TV series. What right do I have to say I do not act in TV series?

Do you consider shooting commercials a taboo? Some says your fee is too high, is it so?

Zhang Ziyi: Doing commercials help raise awareness of myself. Secondly, I get additional income. The most famous stars in Japan do the most commercials. I won’t rule out the possibility of doing a commercial; as long as it is creative, I am not averse to lower pay. My price tag is pretty reasonable. I do not wish to elaborate on this. It’s being hyped up by the merchants, I would be doing advertisement for them should I say any more. I have my principles regarding accepting commercials.
 

Did Not Become Famous Overnight

Everyone feels that you initially depended on Zhang Yimou’s movie to gain success. In what ways is he responsible for your road to stardom?

Zhang Ziyi: He changed my destiny. I gained recognition because of The Road Home. I revere him, and am grateful to him. And also Ang Lee. I am grateful for their trust in me. Though I would also get scolded. However, without them, I wouldn’t have such opportunities. (You are the very lucky then?) I won’t depend solely on opportunities. I didn’t become famous overnight. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a classic example. I owe my success to my talents and hard work. Who would be aware of the sacrifices I have made for the movies? I want to let people know me gradually. My acting is a major breakthrough in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I am very confident of that. I would give my very best, making sacrifices for movie. For it brings not only honour, but also a sense of achievement. Perhaps, it may be remembered ten years later, still remaining in people’s hearts. I have found my worth.

Do you think you classmates were outstanding too?

Zhang Ziyi: Perhaps, the path everyone chooses to walk on are different. I am an easy-going person. My mom said, Everyone is outstanding, but their works are different. I was asked by a reporter during a film festival, I told him I lived in the living room. He looked incredulous and said he did not believe it for I was a star. Actually, when I return home, I am still an ordinary daughter. Classmate, nothing different.
 

Appraising Three Directors

You have worked with three international directors. Could you give your appraisals?

Zhang Ziyi: No, no, no. I am in no position to evaluate them. I felt one thing common when working with them – while they have an achieved an exalted, inviolable status in the industry, they still constantly, indefatigably look for breakthroughs, for new ideas. They love movies as if they were babies, the kind that is newborn, needing lots of attention and care. I believe that it is on the account of their positive attitude that they have today’s results.

Since you stepped into the industry, you have been labelled as “The Second Gong Li,” do you look forward to yourself as being recogised thus?

Zhang Ziyi: I believe no one would want to admit themselves as The Second Gong Li or The Second Ang Lee. However, such a saying would not do me any harm. Gong Li is so beautiful, so successful. I hope every of my works gets accepted by everyone, and people won’t call be The Second Someone eventually. Time will prove this point. (When her movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released a year later, no one calls her The Little Gong Li anymore. Her capability corrects onlookers’ prejudices.)
 

Ideal Love

Mind talking about your views on love?

Zhang Ziyi: I am someone who is very possessive. Perchance my ideals are too lofty, but mainly because it’s very complicated in these days. Finding pure, innocent love is akin to searching for a needle in the haystack. I can only let the nature takes its course.

Do you have any boyfriend?

Zhang Ziyi: No, how do I have the time to socialise? I am vexed actually, it’s a surprise no one is going after me. I believe my look is not bad, but no one woos me! I am a straight forward person. They don’t treat me as a girl. They regard me as their brother. I have very few friends in the society. Most are reporter friends.

Have you been in love before?

Zhang Ziyi: My first love is a wager. I was very headstrong then, and to prove that I was the most beautiful, under the incitement of my classmates, I asked a very handsome guy out for a meal – and took pride in it.

What are the prerequisites to being your boyfriend?

Zhang Ziyi: He must be erudite, so that I may consult him on anything I don’t know. (Need he be handsome?). It’s not necessary for guys, but he should not be handicapped. (What about financially?) Doesn’t matter. (What if he earned less than you?) How could it be? My pay is low enough. (It must be a completely different now.)

Some actresses sacrifice their love life for the sake of acting in movies. Would you do that?

Zhang Ziyi: No. Since I’ve come thus far, no one would look for me indiscriminately. (Are you the type who is very idealistic about love?) Should be. Given my character, I won’t lower myself to gain some advantage. I don’t like to talk about rights or wrongs. I am actually very gentle in real life.
 
Ziyi’s character is much like the doggedness of man. She perseveres very strongly in order work towards her goals. So people may think that she is fiercely competitive but found to be wanting tenderness. Actually, after becoming her friend, it’s not difficult to witness her gentler side. This doesn’t need much imagination, she is but a woman.
‘She Has a Quality That Sets Her Apart From Others’