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Ziyi Zhang Bio
Her first major role was in The Road Home (1999). She achieved fame in the West after leading roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Rush Hour 2 (2001), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), 2046 (2004), and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). She has been nominated for three BAFTA Awards and a Golden Globe Award.
Early career (1999-2000)
In 1998, while she was studying in Central Academy of Drama, she was offered her first role by director Zhang Yimou in his film The Road Home. The film won the Silver Bear prize at the 2000 Berlin International Film Festival.
Gongfu epics and international breakthrough (2000-2006)
She rose to international fame in 2000 with her role as Jen (Chinese version: Yu Jiao Long) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she won several awards in the Western world, such as Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Toronto Film Critics Association Awards and Independent Spirit Awards. Her character is a young Manchu noblewoman who has secretly learned martial arts and runs off to become a wandering swordswoman rather than commit to an arranged marriage.
Although she has done many acrobatic fight scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and later movies, Zhang does not actually know Chinese martial arts; rather, she relies on her dancing skills to mimic the Gongfu choreography.
Zhang then appeared in Hero (2002), directed by her early mentor Zhang Yimou. She plays Moon (Ru Yue), the assistant and student of Broken Sword, played by Tony Leung. The film was commercially successful in the United States and was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe award in the category of Best Foreign Language Film.
She then signed on to film an avant-garde drama, Purple Butterfly (2003), which competed in the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
Zhang went back to the martial arts genre in House of Flying Daggers (2004), again by Zhang Yimou, where she starred along Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau. She plays the blind dancing girl Mei, who despite the lack of eyesight is a skilled fighter. In preparing for the part, Zhang spent two months living with an actual blind girl. The performance earned her a Best Actress nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. She was also featured on the House of Flying Daggers soundtrack with her own musical rendition of the ancient Chinese poem, Jia Rén Qu (佳人曲, The Beauty Song). The song was also featured in two scenes in the film.
In 2046 (2004), directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring many of the best-known Chinese actors and actresses, Zhang was the female lead and won the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Best Actress Award and the Hong Kong Film Academy’s Best Actress Award.
Showing her whimsical musical tap-dancing side, Zhang starred in Princess Raccoon, directed by Japan’s Seijun Suzuki, who was honored at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
She played the lead role of Sayuri in the American film adaptation based on the international bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha, a challenging role as all of her dialogue would be in English. Controversy also arose in Japan and China about having a Chinese woman portray a Japanese geisha. For this film, she was reunited with her 2046 co-star Gong Li and with Crouching Tiger co-star Michelle Yeoh. For the role, Zhang received a 2006 Golden Globe Award nomination, a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination and a BAFTA nomination.
On 27 June 2005, she accepted an invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), placing her among the ranks of those able to vote on the Academy Awards. In May 2006, Zhang was chosen as a jury member of Feature Films at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
She returned to China for another period drama, The Banquet, in 2006; although this time with less action than her three previous films in the genre.
In 2007, she performed The Voice of Karai in the American animated film TMNT (2007), her second performance in English.
In Forever Enthralled (2008), which tells the story of legendary Peking opera actor Mei Lanfang, Zhang appears in the second act as one of the first biologically female Peking opera actresses; before the May Fourth Movement all female characters had been played by men. Her most distinctive trait is that she specializes in portraying elderly male characters, as a parallel to the biologically male Mei Lanfang who specialized in young female characters.
Her next American film was The Horsemen (2009), where she starred opposite Dennis Quaid.
Back in China she played the titular character in the comedy Sophie’s Revenge; a comic book artist seeking to punish her unfaithful boyfriend.
As the year 2009 also marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, much of the Chinese film establishment collaborated in making The Founding of a Republic; a patriotic tribute detailing the process of establishing the People’s Republic in 1949. Zhang is featured in a small cameo role.
In 2011 she starred along Aaron Kwok in the AIDS-themed film Love for Life.
In 2012, Zhang starred next to Cecilia Cheung and Jang Dong-gun in the Chinese–Korean co-production Dangerous Liaisons, an adaptation of the French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses, narrating Shanghai of the 1930s. Zhang was reportedly paid 20 million R&B (approximately $3.5 million) for the role.
Return to stardom (2013-present)
She reunited with Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung for The Grandmaster (2013), which meant a return to the martial arts genre after 7 years of quieter films. The film was China’s submission to the Academy Awards for best foreign-language picture, and once again brought Zhang a number of prestigious awards.
In the same year she reprised the role of Sophie in My Lucky Star, a follow-up to Sophie’s Revenge.
That year she was also one of the judges for the first season of The X Factor: China’s Strongest Voice, where she mentored the “Boys” category. She also served as a jury member of Un Certain Regard at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Most recently she starred in John Woo’s The Crossing (2014), in which she plays a poor illiterate woman waiting for her soldier lover in 1940’s Shanghai.