Zhang Ziyi was born the 9th of February 1980, in Beijing, China, and is the daughter of an
economist father and a kindergarten teacher. Raised with her older brother in
an urban, working-class part of Beijing, Zhang was originally interested in
dance and gymnastics.
Her entrance into the dance world came when
she was 11, as she was accepted to a secondary school affiliated with Beijing
Dancing College. During the 4 years that she was trained in dance, she managed
to pick up some awards, including one at the National Young Dancer
But even though a career in dance seemed
promising for the graceful Zhang, she became frustrated with the art by the
time she was 15, and opted to act instead.
- A hair-raising experience
She therefore enrolled in the Central Drama
Academy in Beijing, where she received her dramatic training. Zhang Ziyi's
calling was answered when she least expected it. She auditioned for a shampoo
commercial, directed by Zhang Yimou (one of China's most renowned directors).
The director of many successful film, including Raise the Red Lantern,
used the commercial as a way to audition actresses for his upcoming film.
Zhang Yimou knew that Zhang Ziyi was the
perfect choice for the part of a young, rural schoolgirl in love with a
schoolteacher, and she was cast in the lead role of 1999's The Road Home
(also known as Wo de fu qim mu qin). Since Zhang Ziyi was unknown at
the time of the film's release, it will be re-released with Sony Picture
Classics in 2001 thanks to her flourishing success.
When The Road Home was released in
China, Zhang Ziyi was given the nickname "Little Gong Li," in reference to the
mega-popular Asian actress, Gong Li. While this may sound flattering, the
nickname is not intended to refer to Zhang Ziyi's potential as the next Gong
Li, rather, it refers to the alleged affair that Zhang Ziyi had with director
Zhang Yimou. Gong Li was once considered the director's muse and mistress, but
they broke up in 1994. Both Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Yimou have denied the affair.
The Road Home won the Jury Grand Prix
Silver Bear at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival.
When Ang Lee was casting actors for his
martial-arts marvel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he had famous
Taiwanese actress Shu Qi in mind for the role of butt-kicking aristocrat Jen
Yu. But after seeing Zhang Ziyi's performance in The Road Home, he knew
she'd be the one for the role -- and she probably only exceeded Lee's
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became
one of the biggest hits of 2000 (and the most popular foreign films in US
history), and went on to earn a roaring $130 million at the box office and
garner 4 Academy Awards, among the long list of awards it won.
The film's success ensured that Zhang Ziyi
would become a familiar face to filmgoers, as the high-flying, graceful
martial artist who shares fight scenes with Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat and
has sex with Chang Chen in the Gobi Desert.
Her role garnered her the Toronto Film
Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2000 as well as the
MTV Movie Award for Best Fight Scene in 2001. She was also one of People
magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, in 2001.
Zhang Ziyi was cast to play the villain in
the summer 2001 sequel to the successful comedy Rush Hour, appearing
opposite the comedy duo Chris Tucker and martial arts supreme Jackie Chan. She
was cast in the film without knowing a word of English, and despite having
taken English lessons, she speaks strictly Chinese in the film (with
She will next be seen in another
film entitled The Warriors (a.k.a Moosah) (directed by a Korean
director), in which she'll
portray a princess taken hostage in the period of the war between the Yuan
Dynasty and Ming Dynasty, as well as The Legend Of Zu and the
futuristic 2046. Zhang Ziyi is also set to co-star with kung-fu
superstar Jet Li for the Zhang Yimou epic, Hero.
Her being mentored by these three outstanding
directors had helped Zhang come up with screen performances so exceptional
that she has begun winning awards.
In the States, she was named Best Supporting Actress at the Independent Spirit
Awards, and in Hong Kong, she received a similar honor at the Golden Cercis
Award. She was also cited as Most Promising Female Newcomer by the Chicago
Film Critics Association--exceptional "official" praise and endorsement for
one so young!