Gong Li
Birth Date:
December 31, 1965
Birth Place:
Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China
Famous for:
Her role in 'Raise the Red Lantern' (1991)
Central Drama Academy, Beijing, China
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gong li_171114
The Story of Qiu Ju


Known as China’s most prominent actress in the Western world and the Chinese equivalent of Julia Roberts, Gong Li has made an impact on audiences since her screen debut in “Red Sorghum” (1987), which won the Golden Bear at the 1987 Berlin Film Festival and marked the beginning of a new era in Chinese film.  She continued to astound many with her dazzling, scene stealing role in “The Puma Action” (1989), where she nabbed a Hundred Flowers Award, and her brilliant starring role in “Raise the Red Lantern” (1991), for which she also nabbed a Hundred Flowers Award.

One of China’s leading young stars of the 1980s and 90s, Li was garnered even more recognition after portraying the title character of Zhang Yimou’s “The Story of Qiu Ju” (1992), in which she was awarded several awards like a Golden Rooster Award and two Venice Film Festival Awards.  In the following year, Li acquired international acknowledgment for her spectacular supporting turn in the Oscar-nominated film “Farewell My Concubine” (1993), wherein she won a New York Film Critics Circle Award.  In 2000, Li took home a Montréal World Film Festival Award and a Golden Rooster Award with the starring role of Sun Liying in Sun Zhou’s “Breaking the Silence” (1999).  One of the most triumphant actresses in Chinese history, Li once again drew accolades for playing Hatsumomo, the villainous geisha in “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005), in which she was handed a second National Board of Review Award. Li's other film credits include Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” (2006), “Curse of the Golden Flower “ (2006), “Hannibal Rising” (2007), Autumn Remembrance (2006), “Shanghai” (2010), “What Women Want” (2011) and “Coming Home” (2014).

Off screen, China’s most recognized face Gong Li was once named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People’ and was chosen as a representative of Shanghai Tang clothing, as well as a beauty ambassador for L’Oreal cosmetics.  She also has headed juries at the Berlin (2000), Venice (2002), and Tokyo (2003) International Film Festivals, and in 1998, was honored by the French government with the title “Officier Des Arts et Lettres” for her contribution to cinema. In 2008, Li received her Singapore citizenship certificate from Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah.

As for her private life, the porcelain beauty Li was known for her love affair with well-known Chinese director Zhang Yimou. Their relationship ended in 1995, and a year later, she decided to tie the knot with Singaporean tobacco tycoon Ooi Hoe Soeng. They divorced in 2010.

Yimou’s Muse

Childhood and Family:

Born on December 31, 1965, in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China, Gong Li was raised in the capital of Shandong Province Jinan.  As a child, Li knew she wanted to be an actress and excelled at dancing and singing while in school.  Growing up obsessing over her passion for music, Li applied to China's top music school following high school graduation, but failed to meet the entrance requirements.  In 1985, she enrolled as an acting student at the Central Academy of Drama and graduated four years later.

After breaking up with her longtime companion, famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who referred to Li as his Muse, Li happily married Singaporean wealthy businessman Ooi Hoe Soeng (born in 1950) on February 15, 1996, in Singapore.  The two met in 1993 while watching a car race. The couple later divorced in 2010.    

Memoirs of a Geisha                


Described as the muse of leading Chinese “Fifth Generation” filmmaker Zhang Yimou, Gong Li kicked off her movie career when she was discovered by the director while in drama school.  The two immediately earned significant international acclaim with their first collaboration, “Red Sorghum” (1997), where Li was cast in the starring role of a meek bride who becomes a great woman when she takes over her husband’s vineyard after his death.  The film won a 1987 Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, and as for Li, her debut performance charmed audiences around the world.           

After “A Terracotta Warrior” (1989), Li impressed film critics with her bright supporting turn in the 1989 “The Puma Action”.  As a result, she was awarded a Best Supporting Actress Award at the Hundred Flowers in 1989.  Li followed these up with “The Empress Dowager” (1989) and “Mr. Sunshine” (1989), and in “Ju Dou” (1990), she rejoined Zhang Yimou to play the title role of a married woman whose scorching affair with her husband’s nephew brings about tragic consequences.

Following a role in “Back to Shanghai” (1991), her next partnership with Zhang was “Raise the Red Lantern” (1991), where Li was seen as the newest addition to a man’s bevy of wives.  Li again took home a Hundred Flowers award, this time for Best Actress, in 1993.  

Li was garnered even more attention in the following year when she starred in the title role of a poor woman determined to take revenge in the Zhang Yimou-directed “The Story of Qiu Ju” (1992).  Li was so wonderful that she was handed such awards as a 1993 Golden Rooster and a 1992 Venice Film Festival for Best Actress, and a 1993 Venice Film Festival for Honorable Mention.  

The actress had another triumph on her hands when she began the high-profile collaboration with Chen Kaige, another Chinese leading Fifth Generation director, in the highly acclaimed “Farewell My Concubine” (1993). The movie was Oscar-nominated and won a Palme d’Or at Cannes, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for Best Foreign Film.  As for Li, her role garnered the actress worldwide appreciation and a 1993 New York Film Critics Circle for Best Supporting Actress.   

In 1994, Zhang once again helmed Li in the well-received historical epic “To Live,” but the actress’s performance as a loyal wife and mother was overshadowed by the strong performance of actor Ge You, who played her onscreen husband.  Li also appeared in “Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens” (1994) and “The Great Conqueror’s Concubine” (1994), and she followed these up with “Shanghai Triad” (1995), a last film collaboration with Zhang, “Soul of a Painter” (1995) and Chen Kaige’s “Temptress Moon” (1996).  The following year saw Li make her American debut in Wayne Wang’s “Chinese Box,” starring opposite Jeremy Irons.

Two years later, in 1999, Li delivered her next breakthrough when she was hired to star as Sun Liying in Sun Zhou’s “Breaking the Silence.”  For her role, she was handed a Montréal World Film Festival and a Golden Rooster for Best Actress in 2000.  She then participated in the most expensive movie in Chinese film history, “The Emperor and the Assassin” (1999), helmed by Chen Kaige.  

Returning to filmmaking after a few years hiatus, Li received an offer to play the lead in Zhou Yu’s “Train” (2002) before starring in two Hong Kong movies by director Wong Kar-Wai, “2046” (2004) and “Eros” (2004).  In 2005, the actress once again became the center of attention when she was cast in the pivotal role of Hatsumomo, the ruthless geisha who attempts to break the spirit of Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi) in the lavish, epic romance “Memoirs of a Geisha,” where she picked up a National Board of Review for Best Supporting Actress.

 “It would have been easy to play her as a one-dimensional villain.  But Gong Li gives her three-dimensionality with a sadness and fragility that make Hatsumomo incredibly compelling.”  Director Rob Marshall on Gong Li

Li will was seen as Isabella in the 2006 film adaptation of “Miami Vice,” opposite Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, Empress Phoenix in “Curse of the Golden Flower” (2006), opposite Yun-Fat Chow, and Lady Murasaki in the Peter Webber-helmed “Hannibal Rising” (2007). She was handed the Golden Bauhinia Award for Best Actress for her role on the first film. She also co-starred with John Cusack and Yun-Fat Chow in Mikael Håfström's “Shanghai” (2010) and with Andy Lau and Li Yuan in “What Women Want” (2011).  

In 2014, Li starred as Feng Wanyu, Lu Yanshi's wife, on the 2014 Chinese movie “Coming Home,” directed by Zhang Yimou. She received the Golden Deer Best Actress Award at the 2014 Changchun Film Festival for her work on the film.   


Changchun Film Festival: Golden Deer,Best Actress,”Gui lai,” 2014
Golden Bauhinia: Best Actress, “Curse of the Golden Flower,” 2007  
National Board of Review: Best Supporting Actress,”Memoirs of a Geisha,” 2005
Golden Rooster: Best Actress, “Breaking the Silence,” 2000
Montréal World Film Festival: Best Actress,”Breaking the Silence,” 2000
Montréal World Film Festival: Grand Prix Special des Amériques, 2000
French government’s Officer des Arts et Lettres for contributions to the cinema: 1998
Berlin International Film Festival: “Berlinale Camera,” 1993
New York Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actress,”Farewell My Concubine,” 1993
Hundred Flowers: Best Actress, “Raise the Red Lantern,” 1993
Golden Rooster: Best Actress, “The Story of Qiu Ju,” 1993
Venice Film Festival: OCIC Award - Honorable Mention, “The Story of Qiu Ju,” 1992
Venice Film Festival: Volpi Cup - Best Actress,”The Story of Qiu Ju,” 1992
Hundred Flowers: Best Supporting Actress, “The Puma Action,” 1989
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© Retna
© Sony Pictures Classics
© Retna
© Sony Pictures Classics