Sunday Times

Hero Worship

May 19, 2002   |   Written by Suzanne Sng

Ziyi Gets A Kick Out Of Stunts

Gongfu-girl Zhang Ziyi has been kicking some major butt. She did her own dangerous stunts in her latest sword-fighting film, Hero. Do not make the mistake of crossing Zhang Ziyi. This is the formidable Chinese actress with the gravity-defying gongfu and swashbuckling swordplay who first slayed movie-goers 2 years ago in one fell swoop in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She inflicted more pain in last year’s sequel to Rush Hour, in which she showed off ball-crushing high kicks on Chris Tuckers and gongfu master Jackie Chan.

Woe betide any journalist who gets on the wrong side of this diva-in-the-making.

“Don’t worry, I will deal with him,” she says gleefully, when she is informed of a nosey scribe lying in wait to hound her on her closely-guarded love life.

Armed foolishly with only pen and paper, the hapless journalist may not have survived the encounter in one piece.

But more likely than not, his burning questions are still unanswered, for the 23 year old lass does not respond too well to topics that do not please her.

“Not dating”, is her cutting answer to a cautious enquiry about her having time to fall in love, what with her relentless filming schedule and numerous product endorsements, like Visa Card, Tag Heuer watches and Maybelline makeup.

With her beatific smile and angelic air, she may appear to me sugar and spice and everything nice.

But beware, those expressive, dancing eyes – topped with generous lashings of Maybelline’s mascara, of course – can also shoot daggers.

For instance, do not even suggest she is being typecast in gongfu roles, although she has wrapped a 6 month shoot on another sword-fighting epic, Hero.

The long awaited movie, written before Lee Ang’s Crouching Tiger captured Hollywood, is acclaimed director, Zhang Yimou’s foray into the genre.

He was also the one who launched her movie career in The Road Home in 1998, which led to endless speculation that she replaced Gong Li as his muse and paramour, due to the likeness of those two luminous Chinese beauties.

“I’ve only been an actress for 2 to 3 years,” she says rather petulantly. “I’ve only done a few roles”.

“I should not be stereotyped into doing only this type of roles,” she says in her lilting Beijing accented Mandarin.

In last year’s remake of Tsui Hark’s The Legend of Zu, she appears for all of 10 minutes in a sword play scene, so that is not counted.

Conceded, her big screen debut in The Road Home did not require any karate chops, as she played a village lass bent on courting a teacher.

Last year she completed a Korean period drama, Warriors, in which she was pretty much inept in the martial arts department.

For the rest of the year, she would be tied in 2 movies – Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai’s long drawn futuristic escapade 2046, and 6th generation director Lou Ye’s Purple Butterfly. Both roles are of the non gongfu variety.

But Crouching Tiger and Rush Hour 2 are more than enough to brand her a gongfu exponent, especially in the eyes of Hollywood.

This is most amazing, considering that Zhang, the daughter of an economist and a kindergarten teacher, has zero martial arts background.

When Hero is released internationally later this year, it is unlikely to change her chopsocky image, especially since she reveals that her stunt double has been under-utilised.

“I will do my own stunts whenever possible,” she says, her posture perfect as a ballerina’s, thanks to her dance training since young.

Proudly, she picks up a fork and twirls it to show off how she was spun 4 times in Hero, with wires wound around her waist, a stunt that “even the stunt double confided that she would have thought twice doing.”

For a little thing, she packs quite a punch, as she adds, “I did it numerous times to get it right. My back really hurt after that.”

“I’m very pleased with it. You can see my face in the movie.”

Despite reports of battle scars from her movies, there does not appear to be a single scratch on her dewy and flawless skin.

Her slender shoulders, bared enticingly by her favoured attire of a halter-neck top, are never hunched.

“I don’t want to disappoint the audience. They spend money to buy tickets to watch you, not the stunt double,” she says, although she admits to having fears of injuries or disfigurement to that pretty face.

Giggling coquettishly, she adds: “I happen to be heavily insured. I also have no concept of danger, which is good.”

Do not trifle with this feisty little dragon girl.