Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Centre Stage

Okay, let's get it over with right at the beginning of this post: I have this Crush (with capital C) for Gong Li.

You can read that sentence in the past, present or future tense, it won't make a difference.

Ever since she lifted her veil in the sedan chair that took her to her husband's house in "Red Sorghum" (红高粱) (1987), it's been there and that Crush is there to stay.

If you want to know what I am talking about from the pure "male chauvinist pig" point of view, let it suffice for you to take a look at the picture on the left. Does the P-word come to mind? Perfection ? Thank you. I rest my case.

However, I could not be sure that the Crush would be there to stay if I didn't consider her a very accomplished actress as well. I have seen most of her movies, admired her for her performances in her Chinese work, admired her for having the courage to go outside China and try to be the actress Gong Li and not: the chinese actress Gong Li. Though less successful in my opinion and bogged down too much still by a language barrier, she has proven that it was possible to transgress the borders of China and still make it big time. As I alluded to in this post before, she -and of course the directors that cast her- has come to personify the renaissance of chinese cinema in the years after the intellectual and artistic near-dead experience of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. And that's what I'd hoped she would always be remembered for.

(By the way, did I tell you already I have this Crush for Gong Li ?)

So I was very surprised / disappointed to read these remarks from her fellow actor Ge You, who really put down a top performance class act in Zhang Yimou's 1994 "To Live" (活着):

Chinese actor Ge You, who stars in The Banquet, says Chinese film siren Gong Li is too old to be favored by the Chinese film market.

He made the remarks while promoting the film with director Feng Xiaogang's production team in Taiwan along with Zhang Ziyi and Zhou Xun.

Zhang Ziyi was regarded as a young replica of Gong Li when she first appeared in Zhang Yimou's film My Father and Mother. Now both are rising Chinese actresses in Hollywood gifted with acting talents.

Ge You revealed that 40-year-old Gong Li and 42-year-old Maggie Cheung were considered to play the empress in The Banquet. The role eventually went to Zhang Ziyi.

"That's it. Zhang is much younger. We can't do anything about it," said Ge. "Gong may have a bright prospect in Hollywood, but certainly not in China."

Well I'll be damned !

Let me get this straight: China, with it's 5000 years of history, with it's 1.3 billion people and it's limitless ambition, would lack the oxygen to have three star actresses breathing and thriving at the same moment in time ??? The idea is ridiculous and preposterous. If China is serious on film and wants to earn it's place among the great cinematic legacies of countries such as Japan, France, Italy, Great Britain and the United States, it will need all the "star-power" it can get, for I believe the stars create the playing field in which also smaller, independent, less commercial movies can come to exist.

Don't also get me started on Maggie Cheung. I think, if you read this blog, chance is fairly big you will have seen her in Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" (2000). To see the star quality I am talking about, I would advise you however to go and see Stanley Kwan's "Centre Stage" (1992), on the life of chinese actress Ruan Lingyu.

Ridiculous as I find the idea to be, I am afraid though that Ge You's words may have at least some foundation in reality. When I look at the Chinese consumption pattern, I do see the "winner takes all"-tendency. Consumption patterns are very much linked to hype and so it could be that with Zhang Ziyi top seeded right now, there is no place left for the others.

For the time being, I hope that he uttered those words under pressure of the marketing machine that needs him to promote "The Banquet", which happens now to be starring Zhang Ziyi and not Gong Li nor Maggie Cheung. I trust they can still be back with a vengeance and that can only be to the benefit of the audience ... and my Crush.


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