Zhang Ziyi is one of the most prolific foreign actresses, so it’s understandable if you don’t recognize her name right away if it comes to Hollywood films.
That said, as prolific as her work in her homeland has been, she’s made a massive mark on American cinema with roles in some of the best modern martial arts films as well as dramatic hits like Memoirs of a Geisha. With those roles almost twenty years past though, where have you seen her lately?
Zhang was born to a small family in Beijing, China in February of 1979, the youngest of two children.
She would begin dancing at a young age, expressing a natural talent for the art that lead her to enroll in one of China’s most prestigious dance academies at the age of eleven before entering and winning a national dance contest at fifteen.
Not long after she would make the move to acting, tired of the cutthroat and toxic nature of the professional dance business.
Martial Arts Mania
She would break out not long after, taking roles in television and commercials in China while studying her craft.
Two roles in Chinese made-for-television movies quickly led to being cast in director Ang Lee’s martial arts masterpiece, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The film would utilize her dance abilities to substitute for martial arts, adding to the intricate fight scenes in amazing ways.
She would garner massive acclaim alongside co-star and Oscar winner(Finally!) Michelle Yeoh, leading to Zhang being cast in her first Hollywood role the next year.
That role would put her right next to another legendary Chinese actor, Jackie Chan, in Rush Hour 2.
Though there would be some hurdles as Zhang was not fluent in English yet, Jackie Chan being the legend he is helped her translate and make the best impression possible to American audiences after her more dramatic role in Crouching Tiger.
She would garner more praise, leading to more roles in not just Hollywood but back home as well.
Zhang Ziyi’s part in taking Chinese cinema to an international audience can’t be overstated, with the actress next appearing alongside Jet Li in Hero before hitting gold again alongside Andy Lau in House of Flying Daggers, both leading to massive success in America.
The latter would catch the attention of director Rob Marshall, who would cast her in the role that would take her into stardom as a dramatic actress, Memoirs of a Geisha.
The film would be a hit, but Zhang would focus on films back home for a bit before returning to Hollywood for the double whammy of… TMNT and the Dennis Quaid movie Horsemen. Odd choice, but bold.
Either way, she would leave Hollywood once more, this time for a decade during which she would reteam with co-star Tony Leung for The Grandmaster as well as meet her husband, Feng Wang. The two would marry in 2015 and have two children together as of this writing.
Though her extended absence from Hollywood would run for ten years, keeping busy back home in various films kept her star power strong and even led to her being recognized as one of the Four Dan of China, who are considered the most prolific Chinese actresses in terms of both abilities to act and draw a crowd to cinemas.
That star power would eventually lead her back to the Hollywood sphere (no more squares) in 2018 with a monstrous return.
Literally, her first role back in the States was The Cloverfield Paradox. While the film would drop the ball when it comes to the Cloverfield mythos, nobody can say it wasn’t ambitious.
The film wouldn’t be received well but the performances were a noticeable highlight from all actors involved. Cloverfield would just be the first movie of back-to-back kaiju films.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters would see Zhang Ziyi playing the Doctors Chen, twin sisters who were the modern representation of Mothra’s connection to humanity.
As strange as it is, this film was panned for the most part by critics, though a hit with Godzilla fans (seriously we just want consistent Godzilla) and would also feature the most badass dragon decapitation ever filmed.
Where is Zhang Ziyi now?
While her role wouldn’t be too large in the movie, considering all the characters and kaiju to juggle, she would still become a standout of the cast.
Unfortunately, this would begin another extended absence from the Hollywood scene, with Zhang only appearing in more Chinese films since. Understandable, considering she would become a mother not long before the world caught fire in 2020. That would make me stay away from America too.
No doubt she’s taking time with her family as her first priority, though she has taken on about one role a year back home since then with another in production currently.
If she decided to retire tomorrow though, she could rest satisfied knowing she made her mark on cinema and the world.