"In real life she is the hidden dragon." Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee, on Zhang Ziyi
Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi received rave reviews after portraying passionate heroine Jen Yu/Jiao Long in Ang Lee's highly praised Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, also starring Michelle Yeoh). Later gaining more recognition while starring in the 2001 film Rush Hour 2 (with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker), Zhang Ziyi also played roles in such recent films as House of Flying Daggers, 2046, Jasmine and Operetta tanuki gotten.
"In China, we don't consider someone truly beautiful until we have known them for a long time and we know what's underneath the skin." Zhang Ziyi
5' 5" inch tall Zhang Ziyi has been listed as one of the 25 Hottest Stars Under 25 by Teen People Magazine twice (2001 and 2002). On a more personal note, one of Time Magazine's World's 100 Most Influential People, Zhang Ziyi has been reportedly linked to film director Zhang Yimou (Ziyi's first film The Road Home creator).
Childhood and Family:
"My parents sent me to study dance so I could build my muscles. I was very small and very weak for my age. They were worried about my health." Zhang Ziyi
In Beijing, China, Zhang Ziyi was born on February 9, 1979, to an economist (Zhang Yuanxiao) and kindergarten teacher (Li Zhousheng). With her older brother Zhang Zinan, Ziyi was raised in a metropolitan, blue-collar part of Beijing.
Ziyi has been interested in dancing and gymnastics since she was a young child. At age 8, she started dancing at the Youth Palace in the Xuan Wu District, Beijing. Graceful Ziyi then attended the Beijing Dancing College at age 11 and enrolled at the Beijing Dancing Academy by age 15. Her excellence in dancing handed her several awards, including one from the National Young Dancer competition. Despite her accomplishments in dancing, Ziyi, who idolized Chinese actress Gong Li, eventually turned to acting and studied at the China Central Drama Academy in Beijing, China.
Memoirs of a Geisha
"You know, I never think I can become an actress. But it happened. Not because I dreamed it, but because it happened." Zhang Ziyi
An accomplished dancer from childhood, Zhang Ziyi turned toward acting and landed her first job at age 18. She was a model for a shampoo commercial directed by Zhang Yimou. After appearing in the low-budget TV movie Touching Starlight, Ziyi met with filmmaker Zhang Yimou again and starred as a student who falls in love with her school teacher, young Zhao Di, in his romantic drama The Road Home (1999, a.k.a. Wo de fu qin mu qin).
One year after her debut big screen work, Ziyi costarred with Michelle Yeoh and Yun-Fat Chow in Ang Lee's martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Her dazzling portrayal of loving princess Jen Yu/Jiao Long garnered her critical acclaim and took home several awards, including the Golden Bauhinia, MTV Movie award for Best Fight, an Independent Spirit, Chicago Film Critics Association and Toronto Film Critics Association awards. The film itself became the most popular foreign film in US history. It netted 4 awards and numerous nominations at the prestigious Academy Awards.
"After Crouching Tiger (Wo hu cang long, 2000), there was a big change for me, with all the attention thrust upon me. I got lot of work: my first Hollywood film, Rush Hour 2 (2001), and a lot of advertisements in Asia. I think for me it's a very good part of my life. I've been lucky, because I've had great characters to play. Now I really want to work with good directors." Zhang Ziyi
Following the victory of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ziyi stepped into the Hollywood scene. Her America's film debut was the 2001 sequel of Brett Ratner's action comedy Rush Hour. Despite her English disability, Ziyi won the female lead role, skilled assassin Hu Li, a role that was originally written for a man, and starred opposite Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
Ziyi then flew back to her home country to star in Hark Tsui's fantasy action The Legend of Zu (2001, a.k.a. Shu shan zheng zhuan) and played captured princess Bu-yong in Sung-su Kim's Hong Kong epic set in 1375, the war drama Musa the Warrior. She also reunited with film director Zhang Yimou to star with Jet Li in his historical martial arts drama Hero (2002, a.k.a. Ying xiong). The film received high praise and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards as well as gave Ziyi a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
The next year, she became a member of a resistance group planning to assassinate the head of the Japanese secret service in Ye Lou's drama Purple Butterfly (a.k.a. Zi hudie) and appeared in Heung-sun Jeong's action comedy My Wife is a Gangster 2 (2003, a.k.a. Jopog manura 2: Dolaon jeonseol). She then rejoined with director Zhang Yimou portraying police deputies with Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau in his drama action House of Flying Daggers (2004, a.k.a. Shi mian mai fu) and starred as Young Mo/young Li/young Hua in Yong Hou's family saga Jasmine. 2004 also saw Ziyi costarring with Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Li Gong in Kar Wai Wong's fantasy drama 2046. Commenting on working with director Wong Kar-wai in the film, she admitted, "It was so hard working for him, but I like the challenge. We don't learn the script, every day we had to, umm ... improvise."
In 2005, Ziyi could be seen in Japan playing Tanukihime in Seijun Suzuki's musical Operetta tanuki gotten. She also returned to Hollywood to portray one of Japan's most celebrated geishas, Sayuri Nitta, in Rob Marshall's adaptation of Arthur Golden's novel, the romantic drama Memoirs of a Geisha. In the film, produced by Steven Spielberg, Ziyi shared the screen with Asian fellow actress Michelle Yeoh. Being asked about filming Memoirs of a Geisha, Ziyi said, "It's my first time in a lead and I have to speak English! In a Japanese accent!"
As for her upcoming film project, Ziyi is scheduled to star as a mail order bride in Wayne Wang's drama comedy Good Cook, Likes Music. She is also reported to be cast in the film Sinbad (alongside Keanu Reeves, Jet Li and Djimon Housou) and Fu Sang.
Off screen, Zhang Ziyi was also widely recognized as a model. She was the spokesmodel of Tag Heuer watches, Korean mineral water 2% and Lenovo Computers, and became an ambassador for Maybelline cosmetics, Pantene shampoo, Visa, Dior fashion house and Coca-Cola.
"I never dreamed of working in Hollywood movies because Hollywood seemed so far away. But now that I'm here, I like it, and I want to stay." Zhang Ziyi
- Golden Bauhinia: Best Supporting Actress, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2001
- MTV Movie: Best Fight, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2001
- Independent Spirit: Best Supporting Female, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2001
- Chicago Film Critics Association: Most Promising Actress, 2001
- Toronto Film Critics Association: Best Supporting Actress, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000