Stars in the making

WHICH other Chinese actresses can you name aside from Gong Li? And just to make things a little harder, you can’t include Zhang Ziyi, Zhou Xun, Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing. Stumped?  

Dong Jie

For many years, much of the focus has been on Hong Kong, South Korean and Taiwanese actresses, resulting in their Chinese counterparts being seen as secondary talents.  

But surely a country that is able to produce an actress of Gong Li’s calibre is fertile ground for many more. And there are. Let’s get acquainted with some of them.  

Dong Jie 

FOUR years ago, Entertainment Weekly wrote: “Keep an eye on Dong Jie." She follows in the bound-for-stardom footsteps of other Zhang (Yimou) discoveries Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.” 

The remark came after her riveting performance as the blind Wu Ying in Zhang Yimou’s Happy Times. It won her the best newcomer title at China’s Golden Rooster Awards. 

Zhang Yimou had an open casting call to look for the right candidate to play Wu Ying. Over 40,000 young women auditioned. It was said that when Dong was asked to return for a second audition, the director commented that she was not thin enough for the part. The determined PLA Arts Institute graduate shed several pounds and secured the role. 

Considering the success Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi had, expectations were high for Dong. But unlike her “sisters”, Dong’s career has been slow to develop. 

Things are, however, looking up for the lovely 26-year-old Dalian-native. Aside from appearing in Dragon Tiger Gate, she was recently picked together with compatriot Zhou Xun and Japanese model Lina Ohta to star in Italian label Miu Miu’s fall-winter 2006 advertising campaign. 

Liu Yifei 

Liu Yifei

MALAYSIAN audiences will remember this fresh-faced beauty as Xiao Long Nu from Return of the Condor Hero.  

The 19-year-old Beijing-born Liu had been living in the United States for four years with her mother (her parents divorced when she was seven; dad is a university professor while her mum was a dancer and stage performer) when she returned to her homeland in 2002. That same year, she was accepted into the prestigious Performing Institute of Beijing Film Academy, where at 15, she was the youngest student the school ever had. 

After making her TV debut in The Story of a Noble Family, Liu catapulted to fame with Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, based on Jinyong’s novel. There were concerns initially whether the 15-year-old could deliver a strong performance but she proved that she had the maturity and talent that were beyond her age. Her role in Chinese Paladin (2004) further elevated her status. 

This year, she starred in her second Jinyong novel-adapted-to-TV series, Return of the Condor Hero. There had been intense speculation over who would play the coveted role of Xiao Long Nu. The role went to Liu after she received Jinyong’s backing. He felt that she had the qualities to play the role of the young and innocent Xiao Long Nu. 

Recently, Liu was tipped by the Chinese media to star in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution but lost out to Tang Wei. 

Tang Wei 

Tang Wei

AFTER months of auditioning, which took place in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, Ang Lee finally found his leading lady in Tang for his movie Lust, Caution

Media speculation over Lee’s choice for a leading lady had been intense because of Zhang Ziyi’s rise to international stardom after starring in his martial arts hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Tang will play Wang Jiazhi in the movie that is based on a 26-page short story by famed Chinese writer Eileen Chang. It is about patriotic students who plot to assassinate the intelligence chief in the Japanese-backed Chinese government during the World War II era.  

Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays the intelligence official, Mr Yi, while Tang portrays Wang, the student who seduces Yi to pave the way for the assassination.  

Born in 1979 in Zhejiang Province, Tang graduated from China’s Central Academy of Drama, majoring in directing. She is a star in China. Her performance in the TV movie, Policewoman Yanzi, won her the CCTV Movie Channel’s Lily Award for best female role. Recently, she gave an award-winning performance in telefilm Jinghua Swallow

Tang, who is said to resemble Taiwanese sex symbol Shu Qi, has also written short novels and staged dramas, and directed theatre productions. 

Lee has been quoted as saying that Tang was the “ideal actress to incarnate the many sides of Wang Jiazhi”. 

Li Man 

Li Man

SHE is the latest “Yimou Girl”, actresses discovered by Zhang Yimou who go on to become household names, joining the likes of Gong Li (Red Sorghum), Zhang Ziyi (The Road Home), Wei Minzhi (Not One Less) and Dong Jie (Happy Times). 

The 17-year-old plays a maid in Zhang’s latest movie venture, The City of Golden Armour, which is based on renowned Chinese modern playwright Cao Yu’s classic drama Thunderstorm.  

The US$45mil (RM167mil) film, the most expensive to-date in China, surpassing Chen Kaige’s US$42.5mil (RM157mil) The Promise, stars Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat. 

Not much is known about Li aside from the fact that she is a student at Beijing Drama Academy, the same school both Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi attended. 

Related Stories:Sizzling on screen