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The Second Coming of Gong Li?

If you’re any type of Chinese film aficianado, you of course know who Gong Li is: perhaps the most recognizable Chinese film actress of the past 20 years.

But apart from the occasional forgettable “Western” film–and Yes, I include “Chinese Box” in that group, along with the others I’ve forgotten because they’re so forgettable–she has been a truly “Chinese” film actress in terms of both story lines and the country where her films are produced.

That appears to be changing here in 2006, with the now (like yours truly) 40-year old Gong making her way into a couple major Hollywood productions: “Miami Vice” (”Now in theatres everywhere”) and, due out in 2007, “Young Hannibal.” (Yes, I know she was in “Memoirs of a Geisha” last year, but can you really call that “Hollywood” in comparison to “Miami Vice?”)

I haven’t seen “Miami Vice” yet, and probably won’t until the DVD version is available, so I can’t comment on her performance there. But to me that isn’t the real story here. Instead, I think it’ most significant that she’s not making her major Hollywood debut in something like “The Joy Luck Club: Reloaded,” simply because it’s important for her to get in front of mass Western audiences first in plots that aren’t Chinese culture fishbowls. Otherwise, she might find herself perpetually relegated to them.

Now here’s what I don’t mean by all that:

  1. I don’t mean that showing up in Hollywood films means she’s finally “arrived.” She arrived long ago.
  2. I don’t mean that her work in Chinese films doesn’t somehow count as the real thing. In fact, I find them far more real than most Hollywood craptaculars.

  3. I don’t mean that the greatest benefit of her showing up in Hollywood roles is that more people who haven’t heard of her before will now be curious to check out her earlier works (though that will be great if it happens).

What I mean is that these new opportunities may help Gong Li herself grow even more as an actress, discovering how to fill out new and different roles than she’s had before, and hopefully lead to an even greater body of work.

She’s already one of the most significant players ever in the history of Chinese cinema. I hope now that her roles in “Miami Vice” and “Young Hannibal” springboard to even better roles in the West, and we can see her achievement as a significant player in the history of “Planet Earth” cinema made even broader.

For some collateral reading, here’s a write-up where you can read more on Gong Li’s foray into Hollywood productions:

The “Miami Vice” movie Web site:

And why not:

Lastly, here’s a review of “Miami Vice” that teases, “Gong Li, once you get past her awkward English, has a dragon-lady severity that strikes sparks with Farrell’s slithery sexiness…”.

And now, say “severity that strikes sparks with Farrell’s slithery sexiness” seven times fast.

August 2006

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