Zhang Ziyi was born on 9 February 1979 in People’s Republic of China, is a Chinese film actress. Zhang is coined by the media as one of the Four Young Dan actresses 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.
Zhang Ziyi was born and raised in Beijing to Zhang Yuanxiao, an accountant and later economist, and Li Zhousheng, a kindergarten teacher. She is very close to her older brother, Zhang Zinan. Zhang began studying dance when she was 8 years old; subsequently, she joined the Beijing Dance Academy by her parents’ suggestion at the age of 11. While at this boarding school, she noticed how mean the other girls were to each other while competing for status amongst the teachers. Zhang disliked the attitudes of her peers and teachers so much that, on one occasion, she ran away from the school. At the age of 15, Zhang won the national youth dance championship and began appearing in television commercials in Hong Kong.
In 1996, Zhang entered China’s prestigious Central Academy of Drama (regarded as the top acting college in China) at the age of 17.
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. 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.
In July 2010, plans were revealed for a live-action version of the Chinese folk tale of Hua Mulan, previously popularized by Disney through their 1998 animated movie. The film was to be directed by Jan de Bont, and would star Zhang as the titular heroine. Shootings were scheduled to begin in September 2010, but ultimately did not commence due to insufficient financial resources. The current status of the project is unknown.
Zhang has been cast in the role of Lin Huiyin in a 2011 film.
Along with Aaron Kwok, Zhang stars in an AIDS-themed film “Love for Life” premiering on 10 May 2011.
In September 2011, the Chinese-Korean co-production of the film ‘Liaisons’ (Weixian Guanxi) begins, where Zhang will star next to Cecilia Cheung and Zhang Dongjian. Zhang Ziyi is reported to earn 20 million RMB (approximately $3.5 million) for her role, in an adaptation of the French novel ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’, narrating Shanghai of the 1930s. The film is expected to be released in late 2012.
Zhang is the face of Maybelline, Garnier, Omega Watches and Shangri-la Hotel and Resort Group. She is also a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics and a spokesperson for “Care for Children,” a foster-home program in China.
Soon after Zhang’s debut in Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home, rumors arose regarding a possible affair between the actress and the older director. Yimou was previously rumored to be involved in an affair with actress Gong Li, whom he similarly debuted and with whom Ziyi was quickly compared. However, no relationships were ever confirmed.
Hong Kong and Taiwanese media hinted at ties between Zhang and her Rush Hour co-star Jackie Chan, and also publicly linked Zhang with Erik Fok, grandson of Hong Kong business tycoon Henry Fok. Zhang was involved with, and lengthily engaged to, Israeli venture capitalist Aviv “Vivi” Nevo until late 2010.
Zhang obtained Hong Kong residentship through the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme for her contribution to the local film industry. After several screen performances in 2010 and beginning of 2011, in May 2011 Zhang was named ambassador for the ScreenSingapore 2011 film festival, joining American director Oliver Stone.