The Wall Street Journal

Zhang Ziyi’s Favorite Films

June 23, 2011   |   Written by Kristiano Ang

In person, Zhang Ziyi is demure and polite, and, unlike the stereotype of a top actress, not at all the diva.

“Ask me another question,” says the 32-year-old movie star, waving away the protests of her press handlers who want to cut short our interview.

Ms. Zhang, who was born in Beijing, gained international fame for her roles in the Chinese martial arts films “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” (2000) and “House of Flying Daggers” (2004) before going on to a starring part in the 2005 Hollywood blockbuster “Memoirs of A Geisha.”

When she first started work in the U.S., she had barely any grasp of English. But her command of the language has improved tremendously and our interview, on the sidelines of movie industry trade show ScreenSingapore, was conducted in Chinese and English.

It wasn’t hard to transition to Hollywood roles, she says. “I’m more familiar with the people and characters I play [in Chinese movies],” she said, “But art is a common language. In fact, if you don’t understand [the language your colleagues speak], there’s less pressure.”

For her latest movie, “Love For Life,” Ms. Zhang heads back to China. She stars alongside Aaron Kwok in a love story about an AIDS-stricken villager in the Chinese countryside.

We asked Ms. Zhang for her five favorite movies.

“Ju Dou” (1990): The film, directed by Zhang Yimou, stars Gong Li as a woman who has been sold as a wife to an older man. “This movie is very fun to watch,” said Ms. Zhang, shaking her head in wonder, “Gong Li is still the best actress overall. Her performance in this movie is on the same level as Halle Berry’s in “Monster’s Ball,” which I also admire.”

“The Story of Qiu Ju” (1992): “Zhang Yimou has inner strength. [Many movies] are superficial but this is not. The story and the characters develop slowly but it really strikes the audience.”

“Comrades: Almost a Love Story” (1996): “When I look at a script, the most important thing is for it to touch me. [Comrades is] very touching and really moved me. I think that’s the most basic thing a movie should do. I love it!”

“21 Grams” (2003): “This is not the same as the other movies I mentioned. I cried a lot when watching it. It’s a classic. I like movies about real people and this is one of them. It’s truthful and the characters are very touching.”

“Inglourious Basterds” (2009): “I like Quentin Tarantino a lot. This is a very strong movie. In a good movie, you will remember the characters after you watch it.”