Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Modern Day Fa Mulans - Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li And Zhang Ziyi

I’m a real hero-worshipper of Malaysian super woman Datuk Michelle Yeoh and to a lesser extent the People’s Republic of China’s super women Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.

FYI, Fa Mulan is a legendary warrior princess of China. She was the subject of the Disney film Mulan (1998) and was voiced by Ming-Na Wen and Lea Salonga.

Her name Mulan literally means orchid (magnolia liliiflora). Fa or Hua is her surname.

While she may or may not have existed, she is the symbol of Chinese feminism and the ideal qualities of the Han Chinese female - independent, resourceful, courageous, disciplined, honest, perfectionist, devoted, patriotic and humane.

Native Malaysia has its very own Fa Mulans of legend - Kelantanese warrior queens Siti Zubaidah and Siti Wan Kembang.

The latter was the wife of the king of Champa in modern-day Vietnam who brought peace between Champa and Annam (Vietnam).

In the more recent centuries, there was Javanese princess Raden Ayu (or Ajeng) Kartini, the Mother of Native Malaysian Feminism.

(She is honoured by the Republic of Indonesia but not yet by Malaysia, despite the fact that she was technically a Johorean for she lived in Dutch-occupied Java which was, like all of modern-day Indonesia, then still claimed by the Malaysian kingdom of Johor)

The information below is all from Wikipedia and The New Straits Times.

Gong Li

Gong Li (born December 31, 1965) is a two-time Golden Cockerel (or Rooster in American English) Award, Hundred Flowers Award and Cannes Festival Award-winning Chinese film actress.

She first came into international prominence through close collaboration with Chinese director Zhang Yimou and is credited with bringing Chinese cinema to Europe and the United States.

Gong was born in Shenyang, Liaoning, China, the fifth child in her family.

While she is primarily Han Chinese, her ancestry, like Zhang Ziyi’s, also includes Mongolian.

Her father was a professor of economics and her mother, who was 40 when she was born, was a teacher.

Gong grew up in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province. She wished to be an actress from a young age.

She was accepted to the Beijing Central College of Drama in 1985 and graduated in 1989.

She was a student there when Zhang Yimou chose her in 1987 for the lead role in his first film Red Sorghum.

After her 1987 debut in Red Sorghum, Gong received both local and international acclaim for her roles in several more Zhang Yimou films and also became his muse.

Her performance in the Oscar-nominated Raise The Red Lantern thrust her into the international spotlight.

Likewise The Story Of Qiu Ju, for which she was named Best Actress at the 1992 Venice Film Festival.

The roles help solidify her reputation as one of the world's most glamorous movie stars.

When Gong and Zhang ended their personal relationship in 1995 (she married a businessman the following year), their professional relationship ended too.

In 1993 she received a New York Film Critics Circle Award for her role in Farewell My Concubine.

Directed by Chen Kaige, the film was her first major role with a director other than Zhang Yimou.

With her ascent and influence, Gong began to criticise the censorship policy in China. Her films Farewell My Concubine and The Story Of Qiu Ju were both initially banned in her native land, reportedly for being thinly-veiled critiques of the government.

Gong wrote the introduction to the 2001 book Chinese Opera.

Despite her high profile, Gong put off working on Hollywood films for years, due to both her lack of confidence in speaking English and her discontent with the types of roles that had been offered.

Her first major English-language role came in 2005 when she starred as the beautiful but vindictive Hatsumomo in Memoirs Of A Geisha. Her performance met rave reviews.

Her other English-language roles to date have been in Chinese Box (1997), Miami Vice (2006) and Hannibal Rising (2007).

In all three films, she learned her English lines phonetically.

Her other notable films include God Of Gamblers III: Back To Shanghai, The Banquet, To Live and Curse Of The Golden Flower.

She is the face of cosmetics brand L’Oreal.

Zhang Ziyi

Zhang Ziyi (born February 9, 1979 in Beijing) is one of the best-known Golden Globe-nominated Chinese film actresses, with a string of Chinese and international hits to her name.

She is also one of the most promising young film actresses in China.

She has worked with renowned directors such as Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai, Chen Kaige, Seijun Suzuki and Rob Marshall.

Zhang joined the Beijing Dance Academy at the age of 11.

She later entered China's prestigious Central Academy of Drama (regarded as the top acting college in China) at the age of 15.

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 Festival.

Zhang further rose to fame as headstrong Jen (or Xia Long) in the phenomenally successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she won the Independent Spirit's Best Supporting Actress Award and the Toronto Film Critics' Best Supporting Actress Award.

The film was a major turning point in her career.

She said: “Because of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and Memoirs Of A Geisha, a lot of people in the United States have become interested not only in me but in Chinese and East Asian actors in general.

Because of these movies, maybe there will be more opportunities for East Asian actors.

Crouching Tiger didn't do well in China unfortunately.

But it took me to the Oscars and the red carpet where I met Tom Hanks.

He said, "You're the girl from Crouching Tiger. I love that movie. You did a great job."”

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 translate everything the director said to her.

Zhang then appeared in Hero, with her early mentor Yimou. It was a huge success in the English-speaking world and an Oscar and Golden Globe contender.

Her next film was the avant-garde drama Purple Butterfly by Lou Ye, which competed at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.

Zhang then went back to the martial arts genre with House Of Flying Daggers which earned her a Best Actress nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

In 2046, directed by Wong Kar-Wai, Zhang 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. The film was nominated for 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.

For the film, she reunited with her 2046 co-star Gong Li and 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 [British Academy of Film and Television Arts] nomination.

Zhang is also a good singer and was featured on the House Of Flying Daggers soundtrack.

In 2006, Zhang became the youngest member to sit on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival.

Zhang provided the voice of Karai in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in 2007.

Zhang is the face of Maybelline and Shangri-La Hotel. She is also a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics.

She has revealed that her name Ziyi means Happy Child.

Other notable films of Zhang include The Banquet and Touching Starlight.

Zhang (like Gong and Michelle) has been ranked as one of the Top 100 Sexiest Women by men’s magazine FHM.

She has also been ranked as one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine. Time also called her China’s Gift To Hollywood.

Michelle Yeoh

Datuk Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng (born August 6, 1962) is a BAFTA Award-nominated Chinese Malaysian actress and dancer, well known for performing her own stunts in the action films that brought her fame in the early 1990s.

Born in Ipoh, Malaysia’s second largest city, she is based in Hong Kong and was chosen by People Magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in 1997.

She is best known in North America and Western Europe for her roles in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and the multiple Academy Award-winning Chinese action film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she was nominated Best Actress by BAFTA.

In 2008, the film critic website Rotten Tomatoes ranked her the greatest action heroine of all time.

Yeoh’s parents are Datuk Yeoh Kian Geik, a lawyer and his wife, Janet.

She was very sporty as a pre-teen and teenager and had a passion for dance.

She learnt ballet at the age of four.

At 15, she joined a boarding school in Britain and later entered the London Royal Academy Of Dance, majoring in Ballet.

But a spinal injury ended her dream of becoming a prima ballerina.

She later received a degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama.

In 1983, when she was 21, Yeoh won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant. She was also Malaysia's representative at the 1983 Miss World pageant in London.

From there, she appeared in a television commercial with Jackie Chan which caught the attention of a fledgling film production company called D&B Films.

Yeoh's career in Hong Kong started with a few commercials for Charles Jourdan, opposite action heroes Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fatt.

She subsequently starred in a string of less memorable Hong Kong films, mostly as a tough female police officer or detective.

The Charles Jourdan brand was handled by the D&B Group in Hong Kong, run by Yeoh's future husband Dickson Poon.

In 1988, she retired from acting after marrying Poon.

Three years later, the couple divorced and Yeoh returned to acting in 1992.

Her first movie after the comeback was Police Story 3, which was partly shot in Kuala Lumpur.

Yeoh started her film career acting in action and martial arts films such as The Heroic Trio in 1993 and the Yuen Woo-Ping films Tai Chi Master and Wing Chun in 1994.

Yeoh had no formal martial arts training and she relied on her dance training and instructors.

Yeoh’s Tomorrow Never Dies co-star Pierce Brosnan enjoyed working with her and described her as a "wonderful actress" who was "serious and committed about her work".

He referred to her as a "female James Bond" in reference to her combat abilities.

In 2002, she produced her first English film The Touch through her own production company, Mythical Films.

In 2005, Yeoh starred as the graceful Mameha in the film adaptation of Memoirs Of A Geisha.

She most recently appeared in Sunshine (2007) and The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (2008) opposite action heroes Jet Li and Brendan Fraser.

In 2001, Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak made Yeoh a Datuk.

The following year, she was honoured as an Outstanding Young Person Of The World by Junior Chamber International.

In 2007, she was honoured by the then French President Jacques Chirac as a Knight of the Legion of Honour of France.