best film: Undoubtedly, 2046 and Hero are two of the very best films of the 2000s decade and Chinese actor Zhang Ziyi is in both. Hero is a towering artistic achievement. Zhang Yimou’s film is simultaneously one of the great Wuxia films (martial arts films set in ancient China) and one of the most significant visual achievements in 21st century cinema. Four years after In the Mood for Love, WKW’s follow-up, 2046, is the third and (so far) final film in the unofficial Love Trilogy (Days of Being Wild from 1990 being the first). 2046 falls into the category of a masterpiece that has the burden of following one of the great films of all-time. This is WKW’s Magnificent Ambersons or The Master – an utterly remarkable film – as long as someone was not coming in expecting Citizen Kane, There Will Be Blood (or In the Mood for Love of course).
best performance: Zhang Ziyi is just a much bigger part of the equation in 2046 than she is Hero. She is solid in Hero, but her work there does not warrant serious consideration for this category. In 2046, Zhang Ziyi plays Bai Ling. The cast is comprised of a who’s who of the best actors from Hong Kong and China during this era. Tony Leung (at the center of it all) has the greatest achievement of the cast of 2046. But, next in line after Leung is Zhang Ziyi and then, in order, Faye Wong, Gong Li is next, but her segment is short and her achievement not on the same level – and the great Maggie Cheung is used sparingly.
stylistic innovations/traits: Zhang Ziyi falls into the category of the great actor who had a brief moment of time where they were nearly untouchable but then quickly disappeared. Anna Karina and Monica Vitti had similar trajectories. Blade Runner uses the old adage – “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long” and Zhang Ziyi’s entire valuable body of work came in that short window of time between her debut in 1999 and her best performance (in 2046) from 2004. Her only other archiveable film to date, The Grandmaster, is nearly a decade later (2013) and this felt like the old band getting back together one last time – for old time’s sake (WKW directing, Tony Leung starring too) and it does not rank as one of Zhang Ziyi’s top five performances. Her debut comes at the age of twenty (20) in Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home – and what a great get for her to land the lead role in a Zhang Yimou film as her debut – sort of paving the way for her to become the next Gong Li (as he did something similar with Gong Li– her debut – in Red Sorghum in 1988). Her second film is Ang Lee’s magnificent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which was a critical and box office smash she was off to the races for the next few years then of course – more work with Zhang Yimou and WKW to follow. She excelled in the Wuxia action subgenre and is a part of some the great wire-fighting scenes ever put on celluloid.
directors worked with: Zhang Yimou (3), WKW (2), and Ang Lee (1)
top five performances:
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- The House of Flying Daggers
- The Road Home
|1999- The Road Home
|2000- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
|2004- The House of Flying Daggers
|2013- The Grandmaster