Ziyi Zhang, China's most famous actress, has been in the spotlight recently for more sensational reasons than her globally popular movies.
In May, Boxun, a US-based Chinese-language website, published seedy allegations she had received millions for her travails as a prostitute. The reports were picked up by Hong Kong tabloids such as Next Media's Apple Daily and Next magazine, which espouse the kind of conservative values towards Chinese women she has long deplored. That she failed to front the media, or even turn up in Cannes to promote her new movie, the first Chinese version of Choderlos de Laclos's classic Dangerous Liaisons, didn't help quash the rumours.
In truth, she was too busy to attend Cannes and was instead filming the martial arts drama The Grandmasters, about Bruce Lee's teacher, Ip Man, for respected Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai.
When you have one of the planet's most recognisable faces, being constantly busy is a given. Zhang, who achieved fame 12 years ago in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (still the top foreign-language film ever at the US box office), is set for another Chinese-language blockbuster, Love and Let Love, with action maestro John Woo (Face/Off, Mission Impossible II), and she's also producing her second romantic comedy, My Lucky Star.
She hasn't completed any projects in English since Horseman (2009), although there's been no shortage of offers, she says. ''I just haven't liked most of them. They've been too simple, too similar. I want to do something challenging.''
Like so many women her age in the West, she's even shelved the idea of having children: ''Not in the short term. I am so busy producing these movies and acting in them, too,'' she says.
When Zhang finally fronted the press to promote Dangerous Liaisons, at the Toronto International Film Festival (a springboard into the North American market), she was wary. Through most of the recent saga she said little, maintaining the allegations were just too ridiculous for words, although the decision to sue Boxun, via her American lawyers, shows she's decided enough is enough.
It's such a horrible thing, I suggest to Zhang. ''I know,'' she responds, shaking her head in disbelief. ''I am a girl with a lot of passion and a lot of happiness and joy, and I don't want these things to destroy me.
''I know they could if you don't control your emotions or yourself. I always look at the positive way. I think that's maybe the key to keep you young and not complicated.''
For a while, Zhang, who is based in Beijing although she's rarely at home, had been determinedly modern in her approach to her own romantic life, openly discussing her engagement (from 2008 to 2010) to American-Israeli billionaire venture capitalist Aviv ''Vivi'' Nevo. However, since the start of her reported relationship with Chinese television presenter Sa Beining last year, her brother and sister-in-law have been brought along for public outings.
At 33, Zhang remains as flawless as ever. In the past decade she was voted one of the world's most beautiful women by Harpers & Queen and People magazine and she still models for Maybelline, Garnier and Omega watches. But there's much more to her: she was named one of ''10 Remarkable Women in Asian Business Circles'' by The Wall Street Journal and has added producer credits to her resume.
''I know the society a little bit more and the business, of course, and I've learnt English,'' says Zhang, who made the brave move to formally reverse her name, Anglicising it for the foreign market.
She's won respect for her acting, too, with several best actress wins at China's major film awards, and has also scored nominations in the West, including three for the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, most recently for Memoirs of a Geisha, produced by Steven Spielberg.
''When I went for the part I spoke no English, and my agent told me, 'Just say hire me please Steven.' I said that and he loved it.''
In Dangerous Liaisons, relocated to a sumptuous 1930s Shanghai, Zhang was initially offered the role of the manipulative entrepreneur Miss Mo (based on the Marquise de Merteuil in the 18th-century French novel, and famously played by Glenn Close in 1988).
''I liked the bad girl. I said, 'Wow, she is great, she has so many sides,''' Zhang says.
Yet she opted to play the virtuous widow Du Fenyu (based on Madame de Tourvel, portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in 1988), who is seduced by the handsome playboy Xie Yifan. ''I just fell in love with her,'' she says.
''The strange thing is women meet their guy sometimes and you are just blind. You don't see their bad side; you just think they are great. Du Fenyu has held herself for so long and she has not allowed herself to be open to anyone. When she meets Xie Yifan she has no idea she's falling into a trap. She just follows her true feelings.''
Dangerous Liaisons is screening in Palace Cinemas.
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