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August 20, 2009

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Funny girl: Zhang Ziyi lightens up

CHINESE actress Zhang Ziyi has awed film buffs with many tough and rebellious roles - as a swordswoman in Ang Lee's Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," an ambitious empress in Feng Xiaogang's epic "Legend of the Black Scorpion" and an elegant geisha in Hollywood drama "Memoirs of a Geisha."

Zhang's depiction of these characters won her international fame while also putting her in danger of being stereotyped.

And for some time now, it seems that the public is showing more interest in her relationship with her business tycoon fiancee rather than her films.

However, that is absolutely not what the 30-year-old star wants, and Zhang has just brought out her latest romantic comedy, "Sophie's Revenge," as a proof of her versatility and ongoing passion for film.

Zhang is both co-producer and heroine of this lighthearted film written and directed by Chinese-American Eva Jin. The US$7.3-million film went on national release last Friday.

"It is my comedy debut, and also my first attempt at producing," Zhang says. "The comedic character is a departure from most of my previous roles in thriller/action kind of movies."

Zhang plays comic book artist Sophie who plots to get her ex-boyfriend, Jeff, back after losing him to a sexy actress.

Sophie tries a series of plans from love handbooks such as "Sympathy and Understanding," "Nostalgia," "Reinvention," "Entrapment" and "Arousing Jealousy." But none of them works.

Yet, through this bittersweet process, Sophie unexpectedly finds her true love.

Zhang says that Sophie's journey in the movie can resonate with everyone in the modern society.

"I should say that the role also reveals my true character as an outgoing and emotional girl," she adds. "I hope people will regard me as a girl next door rather than a symbolic figure walking on the red carpet of international film festivals."

South Korean actor So Ji-sub was cast as male lead, Jeff, opposite Zhang, and Fan Bingbing plays Sophie's rival in the love triangle.

The film also features fancy settings and fashionable costumes.

Zhang has also taken on a new image with her brightly colored red coat, maroon hair and saucy fur gloves.

Zhang's transformation and comedic acting have delighted her fans.

Kevin Fan, a local IT worker, says he is impressed by Zhang's courage to break out of her screen stereotype.

"I think her portrayal of Sophie has exceeded all her former performances," Fan says. "It is a totally different and funny role from what we're familiar with."

Born in Beijing in 1979, Zhang is considered one of the "luckiest" actress in China. When she was a 19-year-old student at Beijng's Central Academy of Drama, she was offered her first role in Zhang Yimou's "The Road Home," which won the Silver Bear Award at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival.

Zhang rose to overnight fame due to her role as the headstrong Jen Yu in the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which was awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at the 2001 Academy Awards.

Zhang once said she would have become a kindergarten teacher if she hadn't gone into acting.

But instead, she became an actress much in demand and working with top-notch directors such as Zhang, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai, Chen Kaige, Seijun Suzuki and Rob Marshall.

Though she has won many film award nominations, Zhang has received few film prizes at international film festivals.

She says she doesn't want to be defined as a pretty screen presence but rather is ready for new challenges to prove her acting prowess.

"Only those who are good at seizing opportunities in time can succeed," Zhang adds. "In my eyes, luck always favors efforts."

"Sophie's Revenge" is also a female-centered film which encourages women to pursue their true love bravely. The comedy romance is the second feature film from director Jin, whose feature debut "Sailfish," an art-house flick, was not very well received.

Sophie's story was partly inspired by the French movie "Amelie."

Jin notes that film making is a much more challenging work for female directors as it requires great physical stamina and long-time concentration.

"Female film makers are usually faced with stereotypes and distrust by the investors," she says. "I am very grateful for Zhang's support. The film will give a boost to my confidence of creating more works focusing on today's women."

Although female directors are still a minority in the film industry, they are starting to gain recognition these days.

In addition to "Sophie's Revenge," another two productions - historical epic "Empire of Silver" and suspense thriller "Eternal Beloved" by domestic women film makers are due for release this month.

Both movies feature a unique perspective and storytelling style.

They are proof that female directors can actually handle any film genre and will be an group to look out for in the future.


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