The Secrets of Zhang Ziyi's "First Times" Revealed
A pretty, delicate Beijing girl, Zhang Ziyi spent her middle school years at a dance academy, then attended the Central Drama College after passing the entrance exam; she was discovered by a famed director even before graduation and became an “international” star with just two films. Behind the fairy tale, however, there are also footprints of a mortal. Looking back, Zhang Ziyi recounts her “first times”.
The first on-stage performance…
“At around four or five years old, on June 1st Children’s Day, I performed with the children in kindergarten, wearing a cape dancing on the stage.” She said her impression of that event is very vague, the only memento left is an old photograph.
Kindergarten was Zhang Ziyi’s second home when she was little. Because both her parents worked, she was sent to board at the kindergarten when she was just 100 days old, and only went home once a week. She only got to live at home at 6 years old when she started attending elementary school.
The thing she remembered the most living at home is plaiting hair: “I kept my hair long, so it had to be braided before going to school, but mom had to go to work at 5:00 am, therefore, every day she woke me up at 5:00 am, got my hair into braids, then I would go back to bed to get a little bit more sleep before I went to school.” This shows that Zhang Ziyi was not a pampered child.
The first time getting home-sick…
“After graduating from elementary school, I started attending and boarding at the dance school, I found that sleeping was very difficult, I was 11 years old at that time, slept on the upper deck of the bunk bed, the bed was very narrow, it was quite difficult sleeping up there.”
Actually, the tough part was not sleeping, but getting used to the new environment: “The whole environment was different, there were 6 people in a room, all the beds were bunk beds with upper and lower decks, I had to live with the new classmates, I was getting home sick, and I cried every day in the bed.”
The first drama performance…
“It was at the dance school, there was this celebration at the school during the Chinese New Year, we put up a show by patching together commercials and lines from stage plays. It was very funny, we did an episode from the novel ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ during which grandma Liu was presenting gift, and the character I played was Lin Dai Yu.” Even now she still bursts into laughter when she talks about it.
Smiling is another memory from Zhang Ziyi’s teenage years: “While studying dance, it was nerve-wrecking getting on stage in the beginning, but then I learnt how to smile, The teacher would tell you, a dancer needs to smile wholeheartedly on stage, therefore, everyone put on a beautiful smile, trying their best, our face were so numb that we were still smiling even after we withdrew to the backstage.” she makes a funny face upon finishing that story.
First time making money…
“This was also while I was in the dance school. I was 14 years old, it was a TV commercial, it was probably a skin-care commercial, but I was not the main character. That was the first time I made money, I was so happy!”
How did I spend the money I earned? “I would not spend all the money in one shot. I did buy myself a present. I spent the money slowly, and I would no longer accept the 10 dollar weekly allowance from dad and mom; At that time, I felt that I was earning money, and I was capable of being independent.”
Ever since, she indeed became “financially independent”: “Starting at 14 years old, basically I stopped getting spending money from dad and mom, I made my own money.”
Zhang Ziyi would not deny that her family was not well-off, when she was little, she always remembered with obedience what her mom said: “Those toys in the department stores, you can look, but no buying.”
Thus, she got to own only one doll, her childhood games included bean bags, “house jumping” [like hopscotch.] Now her income has increased, she would buy herself toys generously: “My zodiac sign is sheep, therefore I always buy a toy sheep everywhere I go.”
First time winning an award…
“16 years old, at the National Youth Peach and Plum (Taoli) Cup Dance Competition, I was awarded the Performance Prize. It was for a solo dance called Peacock Dance. That award was special because it was recognized by the Department of Culture at the national level, and later on it played an important role in helping me getting into the Central Drama College. It exempted me from taking the tests on cultural subjects.”
Her time in the dance school was without a doubt quite memorable, but Zhang Ziyi realized that she was not the best dancer material, therefore she changed career as soon as she graduated, and got admitted to the Central Drama College. This step changed her life, because she met Zhang Yimou.
First scene in a movie…
“It was in ‘The Road Home’, in that scene I was entering the house running, pushing the door open all excited. I did not know what I was doing, I knew next to nothing, the director said I needed to do such and such, so I tried to imagine how it is to be happy and excited, however, my face was all frozen up because I was just too nervous. That scene was “No Good” 35 times! The director ended up not using that scene at the end; hence, there is no way for you all to see my first scene.”
It is really not important that the audience does not get to see the scene that was “No Good” 35 times, what is important is that this movie about rural China captured her unconventional elegant beauty, which in turn gave her the chance to become Yu Jiao Long (Jen Yu of Crouching Tiger).
First fight scene…
“It was at Xin Jiang, in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, I flew into the air and kicked away two bad guys with split legs.”
Did I get scolded? “Certainly had, because in the beginning, I knew nothing, therefore both Yuen Wo Ping and Ang Lee gave me lots of encouragements.”
Even though she had practised dancing for many years, fight scenes gave her enormous pressure and she still proceeded filming them with fear and trepidation: “Before filming each time, I always asked them to tell me the movements early before hand, so I can practised them as soon as possible. The stupid bird should always fly first, you know. If I did not do them well, it would lead to delay , I was so worried that things might be delayed because of me.”
Talking about movies, she always praises the high demands of the directors: “All the directors of my films had high demands, they were all very greedy, they all wanted the best. Director Ang Lee always said: can we have another take? We would do it again, and he would say: can we have another take; Peter Pau [the cinematographer] had to finally tell him: Director, it can not get any better! After that we all learnt to tell Ang Lee: Director, it can not get any better!”
First injury during filming…
“The one that gave me the deepest impression is the scene at the armed escort company where I fought with Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). I needed to jump in the air and spin one revolution, then squat for 2 seconds, and stand up. However, I stood up too early after the squat, my thumb and third finger was whacked, the pain underneath the finger nails were pulsing like crazy, but I had to held them tight and tried not to cry, because the makeup would be ruined if I cried.”
“Then the director said: well, are you OK? Since the director said ‘are you OK’, you definitely can not say you are not OK, so I said ‘I am OK, I am OK’. therefore, we repeated the routine, and again I was whacked at the exact same location, and again I held it tight with my hand, Michelle Yeoh ran to me with deep concern; As soon as someone showed concern and tried to comfort me, I could not help but started crying, then I saw my fingers were bleeding.”
“Beijing was snowing at the time, so they took some snow in the plastic bag and pressed against my hand. The tendons in my fingers just kept pulsing …”
“After filming ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, I realized that the movie making magic can indeed give you a different perspective. After the injury, I started to understand how others feel; it seemed that I was grown up all in a sudden, I know what it meant by being considerate and understanding. This can not be taught by textbooks.”
First time making a Hollywood movie…
“The first scene in ‘Rush Hour 2’ was the fight in the casino with Chris Tucker. The funniest thing was, many crew members were also present even though they were not involved in that scene, I was kind of surprised so I asked my interpreter, why are there so many people? He said they are all here to take a look because they know the girl in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ will be filming a fight scene today. Ha ha … Ha ha …”
“While making this movie, I was amazed to find that the U.S. movie industry is very professional in every aspect, all the equipment are very advanced. For example, while viewing a playback, the director can choose to see the second take or the twentieth take immediately. We also had dry-cleaning facilities right there on the wardrobe trailer; actors had their own trailer, they could read books, watch television or rest when they were not filming.”
“What makes me think about the most is: the financing, the equipment and the creative environment of our domestically produced films are not ideal at all. Like filming ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, it was very tough, everyone including international stars, such as Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat, had to suffer together. We could not take showers or bathes in Xin Jiang, and all of us had to cram in close quarter in order to get some sleep. In such a tough creative environment, we can still make films that have broad appeal, capable of winning international awards, I truly feel that the hardworking spirit and perseverance of the Chinese directors and crew members are simply extraordinary.”
One footprint with every one step, Zhang Ziyi’s road seems to be easier to travel than others. She said she wishes she could travel on this road a little bit further, and a little bit longer.
With incessant negative news coverage, especially the reports about Jackie Chan’s birthday, Zhang Ziyi said she “has learnt the lessons”. Thus, she was very careful, almost paranoid, when she talked. Whenever she mentioned a friend, she would say “my female friend”; telling her that she’s beautiful, she would emphasize that it was because “the movie camera makes it looks beautiful”; asking her if there is any moment she would feel she was actually quite smart, she became quite annoyed and replied: “This type of topics, just getting me into trouble!” From beginning to end, whatever she said are all very fitting and appropriate, all the credits belong to the crew and the director, she herself was just lacking in experience, and needs further effort.
Translated by Masked Bunny for HelloZiyi.us