Zhang Ziyi is a Chinese film actress. Zhang is coined by the media as one of the Four Young Dan actresses (四小花旦) in the Film Industry in China, along with Zhao Wei, Xu Jinglei, and Zhou Xun.
With a string of Chinese and international hits to her name, she has worked with renowned directors such as Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Lou Ye, Seijun Suzuki, Feng Xiaogang and Rob Marshall.
She achieved wider fame in the West after starring in major roles for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Rush Hour 2 (2001), House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). She has been nominated for numerous awards throughout her career, including three BAFTA Award nominations and Golden Globe Award nomination.
At the age of 19, Zhang was offered her first role in Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home, which won the Silver Bear award in the 1999 Berlin Film Festival.
She rose to further 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. Zhang’s first appearance in an American movie was in Rush Hour 2, but because she did not speak English at the time, Jackie Chan had to interpret everything the director said to her. In the movie, her character’s name is “Hu Li”, which is Mandarin Chinese for “Fox”.
Zhang then appeared in Hero (2002), with her early mentor Zhang Yimou. This was a huge success in the English-speaking world 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), which earned her a Best Actress nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 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 Japanese legend Seijun Suzuki, who was honored at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. She then accepted the lead role of Sayuri in the film adaptation based on the international bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha. Controversy 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.
Zhang has also been known to sing, and was 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.
On 27 June 2005, it was announced that Zhang had 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. She then appeared as Empress Wan in The Banquet (2006), a film set in the Tang Dynasty.
Zhang provided the voice of Karai in TMNT (2007). She later starred in Forever Enthralled (2008) and appeared in The Horsemen (2009) with Dennis Quaid.
In January 2010, it was announced she had plans to produce a film adaptation of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; however, it was announced that she had turned down the role due to a busy schedule.
Zhang has been cast in the role of Lin Huiyin in a 2011 film.
Zhang is currently playing the titular heroine in Mulan, a live-action version of the Chinese folk tale of Hua Mulan, previously popularized around the world by Disney through their 1998 animated movie. The film, which is directed by Jan de Bont, is expected to wrap in January 2011.
Along with Aaron Kwok, Zhang stars in an AIDS-themed film “Love for Life” premiering on 10 May 2011.