Profile of Zhang Ziyi

Name: Zhang Ziyi
Date of Birth: 9 February, 1979
Star Sign: Aquarius (Sheep)
Height: 165cm (1.65m)
Weight: 48kg (106 lbs)
Country: China

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Background and career

Zhang Ziyi was born in Beijing to Zhang Yuanxiao and Li Zhousheng. Zhang has always been physically gifted; she took up dancing and gymnastics at 8 years old and joined the Beijing Dance Academy at the age of 11. Zhang went on to win numerous awards as a child, including the national youth dance championship at 15 years old.

Despite being a talented dancer, Zhang decided to set her sights on an acting career instead, enrolling in the prestigious Central Academy of Drama. Zhang recalls, “it’s not that I wanted to be an actor, it’s that I didn’t want to be a dancer!” In 1998 Zhang auditioned for a shampoo commercial – directed by Zhang Yimou – unaware the commercial was being used as a preliminary audition for Zhang Yimou’s upcoming movie The Road Home (1998). Zhang impressed the director and subsequently landed the leading role playing protagonist, Zhao Di. The film won the Silver Bear award at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival and Zhang won the ‘best actress award’ for her performance at the Hundred Flowers Awards ceremony the same year.

Trailer for The Grandmaster

Zhang’s most defining role came soon after in the critically acclaimed martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) – the film won a superabundance of awards as well as grossing $200 million worldwide and shot Zhang into stardom in the Western world. Surprisingly, prior to filming Crouching Tiger, Zhang hadn’t undergone any martial arts training, however her background as a former dancer and gymnast allowed for a smooth transition. However this transition came at the cost of numerous injuries during filming. Zhang’s transition into a martial artist and action heroine was further cultivated in her role as Mei in House of Flying Daggers (2004) and peaked as she underwent rigorous training – under the supervision of numerous kung fu masters – to play the part of Gong Er in The Grandmaster (2013).

Zhang’s intensity onscreen and resilient disposition has made her into a national treasure as well as an international star; she was once lauded as “China’s gift to Hollywood”; has appeared in countless magazines; and is the subject of a numerous high-profile endorsements.

Trailer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

On kung-fu and martial arts

  • “When Ang Lee picked me for Crouching Tiger, I didn’t know that one day I would be a role model in kung fu films. People look at me as this very strong lady. I’m glad I did it, because for me it was something new, and learning all the kung fu skills has made me stronger, both mentally and physically.”
  • “Wong Kar Wai wanted us to become martial artists before we started the movie. He’d come to the training room before we started shooting and watch us, and say things like, “You have to kneel down a little bit more.” That made us nervous, so we trained harder. I had three different kung fu masters who taught me different approaches and skills for my kung fu discipline in the film.”
  • “I learned folk dance when I was 11 years old. I went to the Beijing Dance Academy. I think that experience helped me a lot. But for this movie, we had very intense training. It was eight hours a day.

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On women’s influence in film

“I think kung fu films today are very different from kung fu films before. The Grandmaster is clearly a multi-layered film. Women play an important role. I think society has changed too, so I experienced this. I think I’m really lucky, my character has a line: she says, ‘Let’s be clear. You didn’t return it to me. I took it back myself!’ So I think the message is really strong and all the women can relate to her.”

“I think I treasure that part of this movie because first of all, in the film business there are not many parts like this for women. That’s just the reality. We have the ability, we work equally hard as men, why couldn’t we have better roles?”

“I want my roles to express those parts in the hearts of Chinese women that they feel unable to let out.”

Trailer for House Of Flying Daggers

Zhang Ziyi quotes

“Whatever you see – any good results – are all from the pressure.”
“A movie has its own fate, which often doesn’t depend on the performances of the director and actors.”

Did you know?

  • She underwent rigorous training for 6 months in preparation for the movie The Grandmaster (2013). She was made to train with various Kung Fu masters for 8 hours daily; she recalls it as a ‘nightmare’.
  • Her background as a dancer and gymnast has allowed her to pick up martial arts choreography and techniques very quickly – as well as the work ethic and endurance required to succeed in the martial arts genre.
  • Throughout her career, Zhang has acted alongside martial arts icons such as Jackie Chan Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh as well as other prominent martial artists; subsequently she has picked up a modest level of ability and understanding in martial arts.
  • Zhang said she learned English primarily by listening to Eminem’s music.
  • Picked up injuries during filming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that ultimately lead to Zhang’s decision to quit martial arts films after The Grandmaster.
  • Was voted the second most popular Chinese celebrity in Forbes magazine.
  • Is one of the Four Dan actresses along with, Xu Jinglei, Zhao Wei and Zhou Xun.
  • Is an avid fan of Shen Jingdong.
  • Once acted three roles in one movie in Jasmine Women (2004).
  • Is often lauded for her beauty and has been ranked highly in top magazines including FHM, Playboy and TIME.
  • Won an MTV Award for ‘Best Fight’ for her scene vs an entire bar in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
  • In preparation for the film Memoirs of a Geisha Zhang was given six weeks to learn a craft that takes a lifetime of commitment.
  • Wanted to become a kindergarten teacher like her mother.
  • Uses dance moves to fill the gaps in her limited martial arts training.
  • Among her favourite actors/actresses are Al Pacino, Richard Gere, Chow Yun-Fat and Deannie Yip.
  • Sang “The Song of Feminine Beauty” in House of Flying Daggers.
  • Jackie Chan had to translate for her on the set of Rush Hour 2 (2004), due to her limited English.
  • Likes pop and rock music.
  • Landed her first movie role after starring in director Zhang Yimou’s shampoo advert – he apparently used the shampoo advert as a preliminary audition for The Road Home.
  • Zhang has a brother; Zhang Zinan.
  • Her nickname is, simply ‘Zi’.
  • Whilst filming certain scenes for The Grandmaster Zhang and her co-workers worked in subzero temperatures of -30 degrees.


1996Touching StarlightChen Wei
1999The Road HomeZhao Di
2000Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonJen Yu
2001Rush Hour 2Hu Li
2001The Legend of ZuJoy
2001MusaPrincess Bu-yong
2003Purple ButterflyCynthia
2003My Wife is a Gangster 2Gangster boss
20042046Bai Ling
2004House of Flying DaggersMei
2004Jasmine WomenMo/ Li/ Hua
2005Princess RaccoonPrincess Tanuki
2005Memoirs of a GeishaChiyo Sakamoto/Sayuri Nitta
2006The BanquetWan
2008Forever EnthralledMeng Xiaodong
2009Sophie's RevengeSophie
2009The Founding of a RepublicGong Peng
2010Together DocumentaryHerself
2011Love for LifeQinqin
2012Dangerous LiaisonsDu Fenyu
2013The GrandmasterGong Er
2013Better and BetterHerself
2013My Lucky StarSophie
2014Wu Wen Xi DongWang Minjia
2014The Crossing

Trailer for Hero


Mo Yaro

Mo is a writer from Liverpool, England who loves art in all of its many forms and attributes the root of his passion for martial arts to Bruce Lee. He's a graduate in English Literature and is currently learning Japanese. Mo began practicing kung fu and plans to take up Muay Thai and/or Silat in the near future.

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