Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who doesn't love Gong Li?

Or perhaps another way to put it is: who hates Gong Li? According to the media storm that hit last year after she announced she was becoming a citizen of Singapore, hundreds of millions of people in China. As is so often the case when the pulse of the body politic is taken in the PRC the "netizens"--a very clumsy neologism--were consulted and were found to be outraged. For them it was a matter of national pride--China doesn't allow its citizens to hold dual nationality so she had to discard her Chinese citizenship. Based on the reaction one might think she had blown up a section of the Great Wall. Gong Li was branded a traitor, a shame to her native land, unworthy of being called Chinese and "the most hated Chinese celebrity". Since that last epithet ran in and was illustrated by the picture at the top of this post it may have been at least partially sardonic toward the subjects of the article although such publications aren't known for their irony.

In Singapore itself the "Straits Times" piled on a bit, claiming that Gong Li had "raised the ire" of Singaporeans by not being present when her citizenship was actually granted. Read the Breaking News accompanied by a lovely picture of our heroine pledging allegiance to her new homeland and looking quite resolute. Even the "TimesOnline" found the space to cover the story and find internet users to quote.

Whatever Gong Li's reasons for becoming a citizen of Singapore may be, we know that she has been married to Singaporean tobacco tycoon Ooi Hoe Soeng since 1996.

I was going to quote some statistics about how Chinese internet users are predominately young, urban and male so that using such sources might be a bit like taking a survey on fraternity row at a big college but I will just reference a summary from the China Internet Network Information Center here. There is a link at to the entire PDF report, which seems to take a long time to load, at the end of the article.

There are those who don't hate Gong Li, though--or at least are able for professional reasons to act as if they value her company. Among them are

Aishwarya Rai and Letitia Casta, her fellow L'oreal Beauty Ambassadors, (a more descriptive title I cannot imagine) at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. (Zimbio photo)


At the premiere of "Hannibal Rising" she is getting the most clumsy looking semi-air kiss from Peter Webber, the director, as Jay-Z models a scarf. (Zimbio photo)

This unidentified English socialite gets along with her fine as they compare the number of feathers each has on her dress at Britian's Best awards in 2008. (Zimbio photo)

And at the amfAR gala during the Venice Film Festival in 2002, where she showed she could turn into the camera with a killer smile while not knocking over her water glass, her dinner companions didn't seem to mind Gong Li's presence. It might be possible to look as perfectly elegant--Grace Kelly comes to mind--but certainly not more so. (WireImage)

And like the "Beauty Ambassadors" picture above, here is another paean to multiculturalism as Gong Li glams it up with Andie Macdowell and Kerry Washington, neither of whom seem to have a problem getting along with her. I guess backs were in that year. (Zimbio photo)

Gong Li's attitude might be summed up by what she said over a decade ago when asked in an inteview about how she dealt with the press. It may well be the case for the zillions of netizens who have such hatred for her. In an interview from 1997 which can be found here. She says, "If I don't see what people write about me, they don't bother me. If I do, I'll curse them out in my heart. So I laugh it all off."


  1. The BEST thing to ever come out of China. Beauty and talent.

  2. Er... ewaffle -- I've kept quiet all through your previous Gong Li posts but since you asked... I don't hate Gong Li but I don't love her either!

    Early on in her career, she played too many suffering women for my liking. Also, unlike, say, Brigitte Lin, she somehow doesn't come across as being a woman's woman -- but, rather, a man's woman, if you know what I mean... :S

  3. YTSL has a point: it seems like all of her early films featured a monumental crying scene. She never had the range of Brigitte or Maggie, for sure.

    But I don't care; for the kind of roles she succeeds in, she is amazing.

  4. Oh please. Her and Zhang Yimou brought Chinese cinema to the world.. She is ten times the actress Cheung or Lin or Ziyi Zhang.
    Woman should have won an Oscar three times over.

  5. To Anonymous --

    Even if there are people who really believe that Gong Li and Zhang Yimou "brought Chinese cinema to the world", maybe you should ponder why those films were chosen to represent the Chinese in the world? One answer: they're good. But, honestly, that's too simple. Rather, I honestly believe they were the face that international distributors, etc. wanted to be seen as the face of China -- repressed, suffering, etc. I mean... notice how Zhang Yimou is no longer the world's darling when he became the Chinese government's?

    Also, to so easily dismiss Cheung and Lin and put them in the same category as Zhang Ziyi? No offence but it seems like you haven't seen enough movies -- including ones in which Lin and Li appeared together! (And FWIW, I actually *liked* Gong Li when she played an idiot in a Stephen Chow movie!)

  6. In 1992 “Raise the Red Lantern” opened at one
    of the few art houses in the Detroit area. A
    friend had seen it at the Toronto
    International Film Festival a few months
    before and was raving about it and its star.

    Chinese film for me back then was unknown—it
    still generally is but then completely unknown. When
    I first heard that a Chinese movie was playing I
    figured that they meant a Hong Kong movie. Foreign films with subtitles came from France, Italy, Sweden and Hong Kong.

    We had never seen anything like Gong Li and the world created by Zhang Yimou—and had never heard anything like the Mandarin soundtrack, thinking that Cantonese was the language of China on film. It was a bit like an impossibly exotic Merchant-Ivory production. Frankly I haven’t gotten over seeing her for the first time. I don’t know if she and Zhang Yimou brought Chinese cinema to the world—my ignorance remains almost boundless—but they certainly brought it to the provincial parts of the United States.

    I agree completely that she is a “man’s woman”, much like Marilyn Monroe was in the 1950s. Her typical early roles of the suffering but resolute Chinese woman, often a peasant or someone raised above her class, were most likely what was offered to her. Young actresses don’t get much choice in roles—if they want to work they take what is offered.

    She was excellent in the Stephen Chow “Flirting Scholar” although everyone was happily idiotic in it and, along with Brigitte Lin and Sharla Cheung, seemed to be having a good time in “The Dragon Chronicles”. That movie had so many loose ends and was so discontinuous that they could have been making it up as they went along.

    Zhang Yimou got some very powerful performances from her in limited roles although one of my favorites, “Shanghai Triad” was a welcome departure for both of them. The last couple of shots of her in “Shanghai Triad”—I would have to watch it again to be certain the very last shot is a close up of Gong Li—are heart-stopping.

    Comparing talents of actors is futile. Maggie Cheung, for example, had made over 50 movies before Gong Li first stepped in front of the camera. Since I would happily crawl across a bed of hot coal in order to touch the hem of Maggie Cheung’s garment I have her in a pretty incomparable place.

  7. Hi again ewaffle --

    "I don’t know if she and Zhang Yimou brought Chinese cinema to the world..."

    I guess Gong Li and Zhang Yimou helped introduce Chinese cinema to many but... well, before them, there were such as King Hu (whose "A Touch of Zen" (1971) was the first Chinese language film to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Bruce Lee, the Shaw Brothers, etc. And this even when/if we think of "the world" as being Western for the most part -- which, of course, it is not...

    "Her typical early roles of the suffering but resolute Chinese woman, often a peasant or someone raised above her class, were most likely what was offered to her. Young actresses don’t get much choice in roles—if they want to work they take what is offered."

    Points taken. But at the same time, I wasn't (just) commenting about the roles she took but how it is that the certain Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige movies fit certain images and stereotypes of China and the Chinese that certain non-Chinese parties seek to perpetuate.