Dazzling Actress Zhang Ziyi starring in John Woo’s much-awaited drama The Crossing
We met up with the actress who was set to fame by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and is regularly working with High-profile such as Wong Kar-Wai and Chen Kaige. Now she’s hitting the screen, in John Woo’s much-awaited historical drama The Crossing.
It all begins with that face: oval, mischievous, jovial, almost child-like; but also mysterious, and sometimes accidentally sad. Zhang Ziyi’s visage is a fascinating cinematic surface that has been casting its spell ever since her first big success 15 years ago in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where she wandered athletically through an imaginary forest, brandishing her murderous sword. The woman who would become the most celebrated Chinese actress of her generation was barely 21 at the time, but had already lived several lives. Her eyes still harboured something of the child accustomed to having to work hard to get where she needed to be, a discreet obstinacy that resulted from a decade of graft, a decade that could have robbed her of her youth (and who knows if it didn’t?). For before becoming an actress – her true calling – Ziyi was forced to leave her family’s Beijing home to attend a prestigious dance school in the Chinese capital. “I was 11 years old when my teacher took me for my exams. I passed, and my relatives all went crazy. It was an important vocational school, but becoming a dancer was anything but a choice. What I learned there helped me later with action films, but at the time I got absolutely no pleasure out of any of it because the pressure was just too great.”
The woman speaking these words in a five-star Parisian hotel does so with a perfect candour that masks any underlying pain, before going on to recount how several times she ran away from the overly-strict school that others had chosen for her. Despite everything, these pre-teen escapades helped her find her path. “At school it was hard. The teachers twisted my arm to get me to succeed, and I felt it was an atmosphere that wasn’t great for my self-confidence. In fact, it was a bit how I imagined the army. But despite everything, I held my head up high.” At 15, she gave up dancing for acting, and this time found a world that was made to measure, even if it she was a complete outsider. “The cinema was still a faraway world for me then. On Saturday afternoons I’d watch a film with my father. He’d fall asleep in front of the screen, but I always watched right to the end! I loved Gong Li, who was the great role model for my generation, especially since she’d gone to the same acting school as me.”
Read the full story in Numéro 165, now in stands and available in our iPad app.
By Olivier Joyard