Zhang Ziyi - Introduction
Ziyi - Biography
Ziyi - Filmography
Zhang Ziyi -
Ziyi - Interviews
Ziyi - Pictures and Photos Resources
Zhang Ziyi - Notes
Zhang Ziyi -
'I Want to
Prove to Everyone That I Have Talent'
Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi on growing up, acting, and her critics
By STEPHEN SHORT and SUSAN JAKES of Time Asia
December 15, 2000
actress Zhang Ziyi is only 21, but she's already scorching the screen, from
1999's "The Road Home" to her spectacular martial-arts debut in Ang Lee's
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Courted by film directors both in Asia and the
U.S., Ziyi gave an extensively candid interview to TIME Asia's entertainment
correspondent Stephen Short and reporter Susan Jakes while shooting her next
movie, Warrior, in China's remote Liaoning province. Edited excerpts:
TIME: Did you have a very lucky and privileged childhood?
Zhang Ziyi: No. I left home when I was 11 to go away to school. And I had a
really tough time there. Even in winter I had to climb out of bed every morning
at 5 a.m. to practice gymnastics, and then I wouldn't be able to go to bed until
11 p.m. I had to really push myself and to depend on myself when I was growing
up. I couldn't rely on my mom and dad to cook for me, or to push me to do my
homework. Most importantly the surroundings in which I spent most of my
childhood were very different [from that of other children my age]. The
atmosphere at my school was very competitive. Young girls were competing with
each other every day for status, for leadership, for the affection of the
teachers. I hated it. That whole environment was just incompatible with my
beliefs and my personality. It was a dark time for me.
TIME: Did you rebel against that or not?
Zhang Ziyi: Actually I ran away from school when I was 13. No one could find
me, and the police were called. I was just hiding in a little thicket of grass
at my school, and went to sleep. I wanted to escape so badly. But of course I
knew I couldn't just give up and leave school. It was only when I heard my mom's
voice that I came out of my hiding place.
TIME: Do you still ask your parents for advice on issues?
Zhang Ziyi: I don't ask them for advice very often because they're not
really familiar with my present life. So I now pretty much rely on my wonderful
friend [the Chinese director] Zhang Yimou. I trust him so much. He's got so much
experience and such mental clarity, such wisdom.
TIME: If I were to talk to some of your best friends, what would they say
about you? What are your defining qualities?
Zhang Ziyi: I think they'd say they like my personality, because I've got a
northern Chinese personality. I'm pretty impulsive and act on my feelings. So I
think that people who like me do so because of this characteristic. The Chinese
have a saying "Jiang xin bi xin," which means to judge another person's feelings
by one's own. This is how I try to live my life.
TIME: Could you walk away from acting? Are you so impulsive and so rebellious
that you could just walk away from all of this?
Zhang Ziyi: Absolutely not, because in acting I've found a domain that suits
me perfectly. And that is so utterly rare. Most people spend their whole lives
looking for the right job. There are others who never get an opportunity to do
work that fulfils them. I've suddenly discovered a domain that actually gives me
a tremendous amount of space. The satisfaction of being an actress has nothing
to do with becoming a star. What I love is this feeling that my emotions are in
complete harmony with my work. There's no way I'll change my profession.
TIME: How badly do you want to be in a Western film? I recall also that when
we spoke six months ago, you said you wanted to learn English.
Zhang Ziyi: Wanting to be in a Western film won't get me very far. Unless
the opportunity arose, it doesn't matter how much I want to be in one. But if an
opportunity did arise, no actor would pass it up. As for learning English, my
biggest motivation is this film [Warrior]. Most of the people on the set speak
Korean, and there are very few people who speak Chinese. So we can't really talk
to each other.
TIME: How does it feel to be working on "Warrior?"
Zhang Ziyi: When two people first meet, they can only have a very ordinary
kind of friendship. But when you begin to understand each other, when you get
close to them, you discover that you're suddenly eager to know him or her even
better. That's how I feel about my relationship with this film.
TIME: You're in talks to star in "Rush Hour II" [the sequel to Jackie Chan
and Chris Tucker's action comedy] What's happening with that?
Zhang Ziyi: We're still working out the details, but I'd be delighted to do
the film. The problem at the moment is my busy schedule. Shooting on this film
has been extended by a month, but I need to be in the U.S. by Dec. 20.
TIME: If nothing came of "Rush Hour II," what will you do? Have you committed to
any other projects here?
Zhang Ziyi: There's a possibility that I might work with Wong Kar-wai next
year. I've heard that he has a Japanese novel that he wants to turn into a film.
We haven't talked about it yet though. I've met him twice and we've chatted a
bit about my career. He complimented me on my acting in "Crouching Tiger" and
said he hoped we'd have an opportunity to work together. Obviously I'd love to
work with any of these great directors because every time I've worked with them
I've gained a tremendous amount as an actor. Each director has his own way of
pushing you towards improving yourself.
TIME: Have you seen "In the Mood for Love," Wong Kar-wai's new film?
Zhang Ziyi: Yes. I saw it at Cannes.
TIME: Did you think the plot made sense?
Zhang Ziyi: No.
TIME: But it looked great, right?
Zhang Ziyi: It was beautiful. There are films you see that only reach your
eyes. Then there are films that you can watch...that reach down to your throat,
or reach your heart. "In the Mood for Love," though, reached all the way to my
TIME: Which I think you manage to do as an actress in every film you've been
in so far.
Zhang Ziyi: (Laughs) I hope so.
TIME: What was shooting "Crouching Tiger" like?
Zhang Ziyi: During filming I was anxious, nervous and unsettled because I
always felt that Ang Lee had taken a gamble in choosing me in the first place.
Ordinarily if an actor gets chosen for the lead in a film, he or she has already
built up a repertoire, and everyone knows what he or she is capable of. But I
was totally new. I didn't have a single thing to give to the director to make
him trust my abilities. From beginning to end I worried that Ang Lee wouldn't be
satisfied with my work. So I worked as hard as I could to earn his trust,
because you only get a chance like this once.
TIME: How difficult was the first week, or two, of shooting "The Road Home?"
You had no experience at the time -- what are your recollections now of what
that was like?
Zhang Ziyi: I was extremely nervous. We had to do the first shoot 35 times.
And it was never used in the final version of the film. (Laughter)
TIME: Was there one champagne moment for you in that film, when you just
thought, "God I'm brilliant in that scene?"
Zhang Ziyi: There was one very special scene at the end of the film. My
character, Zhao Di, has been sick. She wakes up and her mother tells her that
the man she loves has come back from the city and had spent the day by her
bedside. At that moment a single tear appears in the corner of Zhao's eye and
runs down her cheek. That was such a moving moment for me.
TIME: Do you imagine that at some point in your life you can give yourself to
a man or woman in the way that your character does in "The Road Home?"
Zhang Ziyi: I believe that if I love someone I'm afraid it won't be [the
same as in the movie] because our society is developing. It's impossible for
human relations to be as pure as they were in the 1950s. When I love someone
they'll have total possession of my mind, my heart, my actions. But men's
emotions and women's emotions are not similar. Women's love is relatively
single-minded -- when they love someone they throw every ounce of themselves
into the relationship. Men are different. When they are in love they may also
have other girlfriends.
TIME: Have you been in love -- and hurt -- at this point in your life?
Zhang Ziyi: Actually now isn't the time for me to be falling in love. It's
time for me to work hard.
TIME: Is it easy to watch your own work as an actress and cry?
Zhang Ziyi: When I watch a movie for the first few times I'm usually
thinking about where I was in a given scene, who was next to me, what we were
doing etc. But after I've gotten through all of this, when I'm really watching
the film itself, then I get moved.
TIME: Do you feel living in China is like living in a cage? I mean, do you
Zhang Ziyi: Not at all. Today's China is not in the least shut out from the
rest of the world. Trends come to us from all over the world. And the Internet
is really developed in China. We get news from all over the world. It's really
only in places like this -- Xingcheng -- where I feel a bit cut off.
TIME: You've had a short career up until this point and, boring, boring,
boring, you're always compared to Gong Li. Zhang Yimou has now discovered a new
young woman who stars in his next film, Happy Times. Presumably this young girl
is going to be called the new Zhang Ziyi, because she can't be the new Gong Li.
How does that make you feel?
Zhang Ziyi: Zhang Yimou is always going to need young, pretty girls for his
films. But I don't really concern myself with what Zhang Yimou's next starlet
looks like. What does concern me is seizing opportunities to grow as an actor
and to improve my skills.
TIME: Tell us something surprising about Zhang Ziyi that we don't know.
Zhang Ziyi: Right now a lot of people think that my success has been
dependent on luck. But I'm the only one who really understands the difference
between the success that everyone acknowledges and the personal successes of my
experiences working on all these films. And my success hasn't just been a
question of good luck. What's more important is that when my lucky moment
arrived, I used my own abilities to seize it. There are a lot of people,
particularly a lot of Chinese people, who don't think that way. They think it's
just luck that's gotten me where I am today. They're not willing to admit that
I've also shed blood and tears and often paid dearly for my success. This makes
me feel extremely sad.
TIME: Why is it that Chinese people in particular have been so unsupportive,
Zhang Ziyi: Because I'm young and I've been so successful. There are actors
who spend 20 years working and still don't achieve what I've achieved so
quickly. So I think my only course of action is to work as hard as I can, not
just for the sake of the film, but also to prove to these people that I do have
talent. Criticism of me, while it affects me somewhat, gives me added motivation
to silence these people with my actions and my achievements.
TIME: Take Crouching Tiger -- it was so warmly welcomed all over the world.
It went to so many different countries and so many people liked it, but not in
Zhang Ziyi: I really don't understand why it's so different in China. They
just don't endorse or support their own movies and their own actors. Is it
because they don't understand the movie? This issue really baffles me. I mean,
imagine if my next film is with Wong Kar-wai. Everyone will say, "That girl has
the best luck." But that's not really the point. The first and the second time I
was chosen for a film involved luck. And I was successful in the context of my
luck. But the third time, the fourth time, the fifth time I'm chosen for a film
-- I don't think that's about luck. I have the courage now to stand up and say
and that my own abilities have given me luck.
TIME: Does international news of any kind interest you?
Zhang Ziyi: I'm not really interested in politics, because I think it's just
too removed from my own life. If there's a war, though, or a disaster, I want to
know what's happening.
TIME: Do you ever think about death? Does it scare you, or are you too young
and death is something you don't consider much.
Zhang Ziyi: I'm very scared of death. I once had this very good friend and
we spent all of our time together. But three years ago she was killed in a car
accident. I believe that when you have been given a life you must make yourself
worthy of it, because death can come suddenly.
TIME: When are you going to take a holiday, and where are you going to go?
Zhang Ziyi: I haven't thought about it much because I've got so much work. I
especially want to go to Italy. I've never been, and maybe I can look for a
TIME: Who would you go with?
Zhang Ziyi: Actually the people I most want to travel with, if I go abroad
on vacation, are my parents. They've had such a difficult life and now I have
the ability to help them do something they've always wanted.
TIME: What about your friends? You're not in school anymore. What's your
relationship with them like?
Zhang Ziyi: Actually I don't have many friends outside of work. I only have
a few friends, but they take such good care of me.
TIME: We asked your mother if she regretted your not having a normal
childhood, and she replied "No." Have you ever regretted or had you ever wished
to be just an ordinary kid, one of the gang?
Zhang Ziyi: I have no regrets. When I was young I sometimes felt lonely. But
now that I'm older I recognize that what's most important is having value as a
person. That means being able to make other people happy and bring them joy.
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