As a peace offering to those readers offended by my dismissal of Memoirs of a Geisha, I stop for a moment to honor the enduring beauty and exquisite talents of Gong Li. I know. I know. I'm supposed to call her Li Gong now since all the Asian stars are starting to rebill themselves with their names flipped in the American order. But I can't part with 15 years of habit that easily when it comes to one of the world greats.
Fifteen years you say, incredulously? Yes. For those just marvelling at the Gong Li magic for the first time due to the Geisha hoopla, 2005 marks a major comeback for this once dominant Chinese superstar. Think people are enthused about Ziyi Zhang these past few years? That ain't nothing compared to the lusty fuss over Gong Li in the 1990s. She was ubiquitous in the films of Zhang Yimou, at your local arthouse, and in Academy Award nominated foreign films.
Any of these six titles are great places to start if you want to fall under her spell for the first time (or all over again): Ju Dou (1990) --one of Memoirs of a Geisha's most beautiful camera shots, the fabric in the water, is like a lift or tribute (intentional or not, I don't know) to this movie. Raise the Red Lantern (1991) was her second consecutive appearance in an Oscar nominated foreign film. The Story of Qui Ju (1992) won her the first of her two Chinese Oscars known as "Golden Roosters" and delivered the Best Actress trophy at the Venice Film Festival, too. Farewell My Concubine (1993) was arguably her most famous film in America. It received two Oscar nominations and also generated much buzz for a supporting actress nomination for Gong Li herself (it didn't come to pass but she did receive the NYFCC prize). To Live (1994) won the BAFTA for foreign film and was a Golden Globe nominee. And Shanghai Triad (1995), won an Oscar nomination for cinematography. It helps to have a subject as breathtaking as Gong Li to shoot if you're a DP.
Previous Hump Day Hotties for your distraction... Madonna, Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams, Jake, Madonna, & "Give 'Em Hell" Harry, Orlando Bloom, Lady Tottington, Daniel Craig, Viggo & Maria , Emmanuelle Béart, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fiennes & Weisz