Gong Li - Chinese Actress, Singer and Activist

Gong Li - Chinese Actress, Singer and Activist

Gong Li is a Chinese actress, singer and activist. She starred in three of the four Chinese-language films that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film: Ju Dou (1990), Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Farewell My Concubine (1993).


Passionate about singing and dancing since she was a child, she dreamed of becoming a singer. In her second year of elementary school, she was recommended by the school to sing children's songs at the popular radio station in Jinan, Shandong Province, China. She was also a member of the literature and art team during her middle and high school years.


In 1985, she was admitted to the Central Academy of Dramatic Art in Beijing, from which she graduated in 1989. While studying at the Academy, she was discovered by director Zhang Yimou, who chose her for the lead role in his first film Red Sorghum. The film won the Golden Bear at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival, becoming the first Chinese film to win this award. It also won the Golden Rooster Awards and the Hundred Flowers Awards for Best Film in 1988.

In 1989, Gong starred in Zhang Yimou's second film, Codename Cougar, for which she won the Hundred Flowers Award for Best Supporting Actress.


In the years since her 1987 debut in Red Sorghum, Gong has received international recognition for her roles in several other Zhang Yimou films. She continued to work alongside him and received numerous nominations and awards for her acting work.

In 1992, her performance in the rural drama The Story of Qiu Ju, which won the Golden Lion at the 49th Venice International Film Festival, not only earned her the Golden Rooster Awards and the Japanese Movie Critics Awards for Best Actress, but also earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 49th Venice Film Festival.


In 1993, she received the New York Film Critics Circle Award for her role in Farewell My Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige. This film is her first major role with a director other than Zhang Yimou. The same year, she received the Berlinale Camera at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival, and her performance in Farewell My Concubine was ranked 89th best performance of all time by Premiere magazine.


For Asiaweek, Gong Li's roles have established her reputation as "one of the world's most glamorous movie stars and an elegant throwback to Hollywood's golden era."

In many of her early films, she portrays a tragic victim and an abused soul (physically or emotionally) trying to break free from an impossible maze of corruption, violence and repression.


In 2004, Gong Li acted in two films directed by Wong Kar-wai, 2046 and Eros, which were considered "an important opportunity to get rid of the influence of Zhang Yimou". She also participated in the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, where she received the Festival Trophy for her contribution to cinema.


Her contribution to the Seventh Art extends beyond her work in front of the camera. Immune to political repercussions due to her fame, she strongly criticizes China's censorship policy.

Her films Farewell My Concubine and The Story of Qiu Ju were initially banned in China because they were thinly veiled criticisms of the Chinese government. Her film Ju Dou was also censored because of its sexual content, deemed by Chinese censors to have "a bad influence on the physical and spiritual health of young people."


Despite her popularity, Gong Li avoided Hollywood for years due to a lack of confidence in speaking English. She only made her English debut in 2005, when she played the role of Hatsumomo in Memoirs of a Geisha. Her performance was met with generally positive reviews and she was awarded the National Board of Review for Best Supporting Actress. In the following years, she played in Miami Vice (2006) and Hannibal Rising (2007).

These three roles, in which she had to learn her lines in English phonetically, allowed her to gradually establish herself in Hollywood. Gong Li said that her Hollywood experience allowed her to broaden her horizons, experiment with different acting styles and gave her a better idea of what she liked.


In 2006, she worked again with Zhang Yimou for the historical epic Curse of the Golden Flower, for which she won the Best Actress Award at the 26th Hong Kong Film Awards. The Time magazine named her portrayal of the Empress as the 7th best performance of the year.

In 2008, she also narrated Beijing, an audio tour produced by Louis Vuitton and Soundwalk, which won a 2009 Audie Award for Best Original Work.


In 2010, she starred in the World War II thriller Shanghai as a spy disguised as the wife of a triad leader. For this role, she looked into documentaries and photographs about this war, in addition to taking dance classes three times a week, to ensure an accurate representation of the character. During the promotion of the film, she said that she became more selective with the Chinese language projects offered to her and emphasizes in an interview that "it takes time to create a good role, and it is not easy to meet a good role and one you like, so I am not in a hurry, nor need I be in such a hurry."


In 2014, Gong Li was president of the jury at the 17th Shanghai International Film Festival. Later that year, she reunited with Zhang Yimou for the film Coming Home, their first collaboration since 2006. In 2016, she took on her first action role in The Monkey King 2. In 2018, she was president of the jury for the 55th Golden Horse Awards.


In 2019, her performance in Lou Ye's period drama Saturday Fiction, for which she learned shooting and hypnosis, is critically acclaimed. The film is also nominated for the Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. That same year, she was also chosen to play the role of a powerful witch in the Disney live action Mulan. Her performance was widely praised by critics, including Vanity Fair's chief critic Richard Lawson: "It is a pleasure as ever to watch Gong do her thing, slinking and thrashing around in a fabulous black witch’s cloak."


In 2020, Gong was cast in Peter Chan's biographical film, Leap, where she played the head coach of China's national women's volleyball team, Lang Ping. In 2021, she was invited to be president of the jury of the 11th Beijing International Film Festival, becoming the first female president of the jury in the history of the Festival.


Gong became the first Chinese ambassador for L'Oréal Paris in 1997. She was also an ambassador for Midea, Chopard and Osim International. From 2013 to 2018, she was the global ambassador for Piaget. On September 27, 2020, Gong became the global brand ambassador for Hisense. Since 2021, she is the first Chinese artist to become the global high jewelry ambassador for Cartier.


In the music field, she participated in the soundtrack of several films: she performed a song for the films The Great Conqueror's Concubine (1994), and New Beijing, great Olympics (2001) in trio with Jackie Chan and Coco Lee. She also performed five songs for the film Shanghai Triad (1995).


Among her charity work, Gong Li was appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Food and Agriculture (FAO) in 2000. In this capacity, she has spoken out against hunger in public and in the media, and has traveled to the field to meet with farmers benefiting from FAO's work.

"To launch an appeal against hunger is not a waste of time". In 2010, while on a promotional tour in China for her film Shanghai, she took the time to speak to journalists about a cause dear to her heart, the eradication of hunger in the world. "Why am I mad? Because today over 1 billion people go hungry each day -- one sixth of all people on this planet."

She is also calling on her fans to sign an innovative online petition that aims to mobilize people about the extent of world hunger and pressure world leaders to take action. "That makes me mad. It makes a lot of people mad. That is why we are all joining together to sign the 1billionhungry petition, to make that outrage known, and ask the world leaders to make tackling chronic hunger a top priority." (FAO.org, 2010)


She was also named UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2000.

In 2008, Gong Li was also invited by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to be a Global Ambassador for the Environment, to encourage the public to give up bad habits that are harmful to the environment and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2016, her portrait was displayed at the "The Transformative Power of Art" Exhibition at the United Nations headquarters.


Her husband since 2019, the French composer Jean-Michel Jarre, speaks of her with love and admiration: "Gong Li is a legend in China, it is through her that the world has become aware of the importance of Chinese cinema. The Carlton Hotel in Cannes was not mistaken. In the lobby, there are three pictures of actresses: Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Gong Li. She also embodies the independence and freedom of the modern Chinese woman. I am very lucky to share my life with a woman whose kindness I admire, who is able to integrate everywhere in spite of linguistic, social, cultural barriers. It is very rare, such openness of mind, such serenity. I understand even more what connects me to China. There, our couple symbolizes the link between our two countries, and we are proud of it." (Paris Match, 2019)


Pétition FAO, 1billionhungry : https://www.booked.net/1billionhungry.html


© Phot: Georges Biard - CC BY-SA 3.0

© Article par Julie Poutrel pour Adama Toulon.