Gong Li at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival
Gong Li (born 31 December 1965) is a Chinese-born Singaporean actress. One of the most famous actresses of China's Fifth Generation cinema, she starred in three of the four Academy Award for Best International Feature Film-nominated Chinese-language films.
Gong was born in Shenyang, Liaoning, and grew up in Jinan, Shandong. She enrolled at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, from where she graduated in 1989. While a student at the Academy, she was spotted by director Zhang Yimou and debuted in Zhang's Red Sorghum in 1987. Gong and Zhang's professional and personal relationship received much media attention in the Chinese-speaking world, as they continued to collaborate on a string of critically acclaimed movies, including the Oscar-nominated features Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991). For her role in the Zhang-directed The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), Gong won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival.
Gong also starred in the Chen Kaige-directed Oscar-nominated Farewell My Concubine (1993), for which she won Best Supporting Actress at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Other notable appearances include Breaking the Silence (2000), Zhou Yu's Train (2003), 2046 (2004), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), and Coming Home (2014). Gong was head of jury at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival and the 2002 Venice Film Festival, the first Chinese to hold such position at both events. Throughout her career, Gong has won three Hundred Flowers Awards, two Golden Rooster Awards, and honourary awards at the Berlin and Cannes film festivals. She was appointed a Commander (Commandeur) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the government of France in 2010.
In 1985, she was accepted to study at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing; she graduated in 1989. While a student at the Central Academy of Drama, she was discovered by Zhang Yimou, who chose her for the lead role in Red Sorghum, his first film as a director.
Over the several years following her 1987 acting debut in Red Sorghum, Gong received international acclaim for her roles in several more Zhang Yimou films. She starred in Ju Dou in 1990; her performance in the Oscar-nominated Raise the Red Lantern (1991) put her in the international spotlight; she was named Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her performance in The Story of Qiu Ju (1992). These roles established her reputation, according to Asiaweek, as "one of the world's most glamorous movie stars and an elegant throwback to Hollywood's golden era".
In many of her early movies, Gong represents a tragic victim and an abused soul (physically or emotionally), trying to release herself from an impossible maze of corruption, violence and suppression. In Raise the Red Lantern and Shanghai Triad (1995) an additional tragic element is added to her being as she unintentionally becomes the executioner of new innocent victims, making her realize that she has assisted the dark cynical system.
In 1993, she received a New York Film Critics Circle award for her role in Farewell My Concubine (1993). Directed by Chen Kaige, the film was her first major role with a director other than Zhang Yimou. In the same year, she was awarded with the Berlinale Camera at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival. Premiere magazine ranked her performance in Farewell My Concubine as the 89th greatest performance of all time. She also worked with renowned director Stephen Chow in comedy films God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai (1991) and Flirting Scholar (1993).
Immune to political repercussions because of her fame, Gong Li began criticizing the censorship policy in China. Her films Farewell My Concubine and The Story of Qiu Ju were initially banned in China for being thinly-veiled critiques of the Chinese government. Regarding the sexual content in Ju Dou, Chinese censorship deemed the film "a bad influence on the physical and spiritual health of young people."
In June 1998, Gong Li became a recipient of France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Two years later, she was invited by the Berlin Film Festival to be the president of its international jury for the festival's 50th anniversary (2001 February).
Gong won her second international Best Actress trophy for her performance as a struggling single mother in Breaking the Silence (2000) at the Montreal Film Festival, directed by Sun Zhou. She was invited to head the Venice Film Festival in 2002.
In the early 2000s, Gong also starred in two films directed by Wong Kar-wai, 2046 and Eros (both in 2004). She attended the Cannes Film Festival that year, where she was awarded the Festival Trophy for her contributions to film.
Despite her popularity, Gong avoided Hollywood for years, due to a lack of confidence in speaking English. She made her English speaking debut in 2005 when she starred as Hatsumomo in Memoirs of a Geisha. Her performance was met with generally positive reviews. Her other English-language roles to date included Miami Vice in 2006 and Hannibal Rising in 2007. In all three films, she learned her English lines phonetically.
She worked again with Zhang Yimou for historical epic Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). Time named her performance as the Empress as the 7th greatest performance of the year.
In 2010, Gong starred in the World War II-era thriller Shanghai as a spy who is disguised as the wife of a triad boss (played by Chow Yun-fat). She turned to documentaries and photographs about World War II, besides taking dancing classes three times a week, to ensure an accurate portrayal of the character. During a press junket for the film, she stated that she was becoming more selective with the Chinese language projects offered to her.
In 2014, Gong was the president of the jury for the 17th Shanghai International Film Festival. Later that same year, she reunited with Zhang Yimou for the film Coming Home, which is set during the throes of the Cultural Revolution; this film was their first collaboration since 2006.
In 2018, Gong was cast in Lou Ye's period drama Saturday Fiction, where she plays an actress who is working undercover gathering intelligence for the Allies. That year, she was also cast in the live-action adaptation of the 1998 Disney animated film Mulan, as an unspecified villain.
Her personal and professional relationship with director Zhang Yimou has been highly publicized. The pair collaborated on six films between 1987 and 1995, before ending their relationship. They reunited in 2006 for the film Curse of the Golden Flower and in 2014 on Coming Home.
Gong applied for Singapore citizenship in early 2008. When overseas professional obligations prevented her from showing up at her scheduled August citizenship ceremony, she was harshly criticized for not making it a priority. On Saturday, 8 November 2008, Gong, in an effort to make amends, attended a citizenship ceremony held at Teck Ghee Community Club and received her Singapore citizenship certificate from Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah.
|1989||The Empress Dowager
|A Terracotta Warrior
|1991||God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai
|Raise the Red Lantern
|Waitress at banquet|
|1992||The Story of Qiu Ju
|Mary from Beijing
|1993||Farewell My Concubine
|1994||Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain
|A Soul Haunted by Painting
|The Great Conqueror's Concubine
|1998||The Emperor and the Assassin
|2000||Breaking the Silence
|2002||Zhou Yu's Train
|2004||2046||Su Li Zhen|
|Eros: The Hand
|2005||Memoirs of a Geisha
|Curse of the Golden Flower
|Lady Murasaki Shikibu Lecter|
|2011||What Women Want
|2016||The Monkey King 2
|White Bone Demon|
Awards and nominations
- 1997 – 50th Cannes Film Festival
- 2000 – 50th Berlin Film Festival
- 2002 – 59th Venice Film Festival
- 2003 – 16th Tokyo International Film Festival
- 2014 – 17th Shanghai International Film Festival
- 2018 – 55th Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards
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