For most women, good looks are thought to be advantageous. But for some Chinese movie stars, excessive beauty can be a curse as well as a blessing.
Lin Chi-ling knows this only too well, and the Taiwanese model-actress came in for criticism for her own looks in her film debut in John Woo’s two-part epic Red Cliff.
Moviegoers complained she was simply too pretty for a movie supposed to take place during a period of bloodied civil war.
Woo still praised her performance as a newcomer: “For me, Chi-ling has a gracefulness that resembles Audrey Hepburn,” he said.
Next, Lin will rough it up again to star in the Indiana Jones-esque, Battle in Shama Town. The film sees Lin and actor Sun Honglei fight it out with several other treasure hunters in a desert in West China.
In a break from her ‘good girl’ image, she’ll be playing a villainous woman with a bad temper. But in truth it is only a small part in the film; the male actors are getting significantly more screen time, which is standard fare in the domestic movie industry.
Still, some actresses are trying to break through into more substantial parts, and refuse to be typecast into supporting roles.
Take mainland movie star Fan Bingbing (see WiC20). Another actress with a “pretty” reputation, Fan is surprising mainland audiences with the most substantial role yet in her career: Lady Li, a strong independent widow who becomes a city’s ruler during a time of chaos. Wheat opened in September.
Fan is best known for roles in tragic love stories. But the mainland actress tells the domestic press that she is ready to try something new.
“When I choose a role, I prefer something I really never tried before,” says Fan. “I am like chewing gum, very elastic. I choose to believe the audience will grow up with me.”
It’s not the first time Fan has chosen to play a grittier character. In 2007, she played a plain massage parlour girl in Lost in Beijing. Last year she donned thick glasses and wore a bucktooth smile for Desires of the Heart.
Her approach seems to be paying off. Sina Entertaiment says she is proving that she is no longer just a “pretty vase” but a great actress too.
But be careful what you wish for. Zhang Ziyi, the mainland’s best known movie darling, is finding it tougher to break the mould.
Zhang – famous for her all-action role in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – surprised her fans by starring in her first comedy Sophie’s Revenge (see WiC19) in August.
Zhang told the Shanghai Daily that even though her comedy debut is a departure from previous roles in action movies, she also wants to prove her acting prowess through new challenges.
But it seems moviegoers are not quite ready for Zhang’s transition. The film received a lukewarm response at the box office, grossing only Rmb50 million ($7.3 million).
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