Ziyi Zhang (Chinese: 章子怡; pinyin:
Zhāng Zǐyí; Wade-Giles: Chang Tzu-yi; born February 9, 1979) is a Chinese
film actress. Zhang is coined by the media as one of the Four Young Dan
actresses (四大花旦) 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.
Zhang Ziyi was born and raised in Beijing, China. Her parents are Zhang
Yuanxiao, an accountant, and Li Zhousheng, a kindergarten teacher. She has
an older brother, Zhang Zinan (born 1973). Zhang joined the Beijing Dance
Academy at the age of 11. When Zhang's parents suggested she attend the
school, she was skeptical. While at this boarding school, she noticed how
catty the other girls were while competing for status amongst the
teachers. Zhang disliked the attitudes of peers and teachers so much that,
on one occasion, she ran away from the school.
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 2000 Berlin Film
Zhang further rose to fame due to her role as the headstrong Jen (Chinese
version: Yu Jiao Long) in the phenomenally successful Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon, for which she won several awards in the West, 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 didn't speak English at
the time, Jackie Chan had to interpret everything the director said to
her. In the movie, her character's name, "Hu Li", is translated from
Mandarin Chinese to "Fox".
Zhang then appeared in Hero, with her early mentor Zhang Yimou, which was
a huge success in the English-speaking world and nominated for an Oscar
and a Golden Globe award. Her next film was the avant-garde drama Purple
Butterfly by Lou Ye, which competed at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
Zhang went back to the martial arts genre with House of Flying Daggers
(十面埋伏), which earned her a Best Actress nomination from the British
Academy of Film and Television Arts.
In 2046, 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
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.
In 2005, Zhang landed the lead role of Sayuri in the film adaptation of
the international bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha. There was a slight
controversy in Japan about a Chinese woman portraying a Japanese Geisha.
For the film, she reunited with her 2046 co-star Gong Li and with her
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 June 27, 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.
In May 2006, Zhang became the youngest member to sit on the jury of the
Cannes Film Festival. In the fall of 2006, Zhang played Empress Wan in The
Banquet (Yè Yàn 夜宴), a film set in the Tang Dynasty.
Zhang provided the voice of Karai in the TMNT movie that was released on
March 23, 2007. She later starred in Forever Enthralled (Mei Lanfang)
(2008) and appeared in The Horsemen (2009) with Dennis Quaid.
Zhang announced plans to produce a film adaptation of Snow Flower and the
Secret Fan. However, in January 2010, it was announced she had quit the
project. It is unknown if this is a temporary or permanent move.
Zhang is the face of Maybelline, Garnier and Shangri-la Hotel and Resort
Group. She is also a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics and a
spokesperson for "Save the 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.
Zhang Yimou was previously involved in an extramarital affair with actress
Gong Li, whom he similarly debuted and with whom Zhang Ziyi was quickly
compared. However, no relationship between the two has been confirmed.
Hong Kong and Taiwanese media have often pushed at ties between Zhang and
co-star Jackie Chan. This was fueled in part by photos that emerged of the
pair during celebrations of Chan's birthday on the set of Rush Hour 2.
Zhang for a while was publicly linked with Fok Kai-shan, grandson of Hong
Kong business tycoon Henry Fok.
In the July 2006 issue of Interview Magazine, Zhang Ziyi spoke of her
movies' contents and being careful about the roles she takes on,
especially in Hollywood.
“ Yes. Otherwise I could have done a lot of Hollywood movies. After
Crouching Tiger I got a lot of offers, but I turned them down because they
were all victim roles--poor girls sold to America to be a wife or
whatever. I know I have the ability to go deeper, to take on more original
roles than that. That's why I really appreciated Geisha, because it
allowed us to show the world what kind of actors we are and what kind of
characters we can play--not just action, kick-ass parts. ”
She stated in an early interview that if she had not become an actress,
she would have liked to have been a kindergarten teacher, as she loves
In January 2007, Zhang was spotted holding hands and kissing her new
boyfriend at a New York basketball game. The man was identified as Israeli
multi-millionaire and venture capitalist, Vivi Nevo. The two were again
seen together at an Oscar party in Los Angeles. Nevo, who has previously
been tied to model Kate Moss, is a major shareholder in Time Warner and an
early backer of The Weinstein Company with whom Zhang is purported to have
a multi-film deal. Zhang Ziyi and Nevo are currently engaged. Zhang has
also obtained Hong Kong residentship through the Quality Migrant Admission
Scheme for her contribution to the local film industry.
Of the characters making up her name, Zhāng (章) is her surname (not to be
confused with the more common Zhāng 张 which is a homophone but written
with a different character), Zǐ (子) means 'child' or 'esteemed person',
and Yí (怡) means 'joy' or 'happiness'. She has appeared in English
language films under the name Ziyi Zhang. In an interview, she stated that
the name change was her publicist's idea of a way to appeal to Western
"In China, we don't consider
someone truly beautiful until we have known them for a long time,
and we know what's underneath the skin."
After Crouching Tiger (Wo hu cang long (2000)), there was a big
change for me, with all the attention thrust upon me. I got lot of
work: my first Hollywood film, Rush Hour 2 (2001), and a lot of
advertisements in Asia. I think for me it's a very good part of my
life. I've been lucky, because I've had great characters to play.
Now I really want to work with good directors.
You know, I never think I can become an actress. But it happened.
Not because I dreamed it, but because it happened.
It's my first time in a lead and I have to speak English! In a
Japanese accent! [on Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)].
It was so hard working for him, but I like the challenge. We don't
learn the script, every day we had to, erm ... improvise. [on
working with Wong Kar-wai in '2046']
"For Western women, it's much easier to be yourself. If you want to
do something, you just go and do it. In an Asian context, women are
still much more modest and conservative. I want, through my roles,
to express the parts in the hearts of Chinese women that they feel
unable to let out."
Chinese women are much more modest than American women when it comes
to clothes. We tend to show less flesh.
I've discovered that I value simplicity above all in dressing. I
don't like anything I wear to be too complicated or fussy.
"Even though I've done Hollywood films, I still don't think of
myself as a Hollywood actress."
"I always think it's really hard if you are Asian or Chinese to be
really in Hollywood. There are not so many really great characters
for you. I always think you are lucky to get offered [something
like] 'Memoirs of a Geisha', but I don't think it will happen all
"But I enjoy being an actress a lot, because I can feel different
women's lives. I have the chance to feel like a geisha one day, and
on another day maybe a scientist. That's the interesting part for
me. My profession has helped me to grow up."
"I don't like kick-ass stereotypical roles. I already turn a lot
down, even when they promise me a lot of money. I really want to do
something in Europe. With a small movie, it can be an interesting
challenge. But I have to get the right project. I don't think it's
so important to go to Hollywood. All that trash that comes out of
there! I don't want to do that."
"Working in Hollywood, it's clear the more money you have, the more
technology you can get. So you can build a whole Japanese set. Only
in Hollywood! I couldn't believe the first day I walked on the set.
Rob Marshall walked me like a tourist round the set. It took 40
minutes, so how big was that? Today it can be winter, and tomorrow
summer. Everything's unbelievable."