Li Bingbing is one of China’s most famous and talented actresses.
Her film debut was Zhang Yuan’s Seventeen Years (1999), which won her the “Best Actress” Award in the 1999 Singapore Film Festival. In 2001, Li starred in the television series Young Justice Bao, which propelled her to become one of the most famous actresses in China. That year she was awarded the title of one of the “Top Ten Best TV actors/actresses in China”. From then on, Li was approbated as an “action actress” as she starred in a number of wuxia television dramas, such as Taiji Prodigy and Eight Heroes.
In 2004, Li starred in the romantic comedy film Waiting Alone, which received three Chinese Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress. That same year, Li won the title of “The Most Popular Actress” at the 12th Beijing College Film Festival. She went on to star in Feng Xiaogang’s A World Without Thieves, which earned her a nomination for “Best Supporting Actress” Award at the 2005 Golden Rooster Awards.
Li won the “Best Actress” Awards at the 2007 Huabiao Awards and at the 2008 Hundred Flowers Awards for her performance in The Knot; the film is also China’s entry for the Best Foreign Film award at the 2008 Academy Awards. She also co-starred with Jet Li and Jackie Chan in the 2008 film The Forbidden Kingdom as the White-haired Witch Ni-chang. In November 2009, Li won the Best Leading Actress Award at the 46th Golden Horse Film Awards for her role in the espionage spy thriller The Message.
Li’s most recent notable performance is for the role of Shangguan Jing’er in Tsui Hark’s 2010 film Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame; her character in this movie is loosely based on Shangguan Wan’er, a poet, writer and politician of the Tang Dynasty. Her first-time leading role in an English language film is Wayne Wang’s 2011 Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a film adaptation from Lisa See’s 2005 novel of the same title
Li is a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, WWF Earth Hour Global Ambassador, and Ambassador of Korean Culture in China.
Asiance met with Li Bingbing when she traveled to New York City in March. She was polite, sweet and of course, beautiful.
ASIANCE: How did you know that you had this role?
Li Bingbing: It’s very interesting! IT’s destiny, In china we have a way to say, “Destiny”. This role is pretty powerful for me. I received a call from Wendi Murdoch and she said, “Would you want to shoot a movie with me, called Snowflower and the Secret Fan”? She told me this is a very popular novel in America. She sent the script to me. I felt it was a good story. She’s a very good, captivating girl. For an actress, I think it’s a very hard opportunity to come by. I told myself I have to do this film. Wendy picked me!
ASIANCE: How was the chemistry between you and your co-star Gianna? Describe your co-star.
Li Bingbing: Smart and pretty and very open. She’s so sweet. I look at her like a normal actress. In this movie, according to the book, our relationship is very special. I didn’t think of her as my friend, co-star, co-worker. I looked at her like my sister. I really hoped and expected to look forward to seeing her. Like when a girl longs to see a boy that she likes. The feeling is really different. I really appreciate that we have that relationship that is already required on this movie. It’s going to be a very special memory.
ASIANCE: How long was filming?
Li Bingbing: 2 and a half months. I shot every day.
ASIANCE: What was it like working with Hugh Jackman and Wayne Wang?
Li Bingbing: Wow! Hugh Jackman is wonderful, cute and a very nice person. Everyone in the world knows he’s a superstar. The surprise for me is that he made me feel different. He’s normal. He’s not high maintenance. He was very nice and professional and very attractive. He also brought his own wardrobe and put a lot into this movie, even though he has a few scenes.
In this movie, he has to sing in Chinese. The song is very popular in China. He can absolutely sing a very perfect Chinese. When he sang at the moment…everyone was “Wow!” He’s very good!
The whole world is paying attention to China. We have more chance in the film industry now.
ASIANCE: What would you say about Wayne Wang?
Li Bingbing: Before I did this movie, we had never met. We didn’t know each other. After this movie, we understand each other and are very good friends. He’s a very special director. He is a very nice person. He’s almost like someone I never met. He’s a gentleman. Even when I had to do some dubbing and reshooting in New York, he and his wife, brought my assistant and I out to dinner. He’s very nice and very flexible. He can accept your opinions and ideas or if you have something you want to discuss with him, he will accept you and discuss. You have freedom. The whole process of the shooting felt cozy, warm and relaxed.
ASIANCE: Describe Wendi Murdoch and Florence Sloan.
Li Bingbing: This movie for us (Wendi, Hugh, all of us), we’re all like a big family. We have a very good relationship.
Wendi is like a parent. She’s in charge of everything and very capable. She put a lot in to this movie and is very tough, strong. She cares about everything, script, eating. Every time we come to New York, she arranges everything, invites us to her house for dinner. She’s absolutely a very nice person. She’s elegant. Now that I know her, she’s a really good mother. I watched how she treated her children. Those two lovely girls are very pretty. Every time they communicate, Wendi was always polite and explained things to them.
For example, if one of them wanted her to buy something, she wouldn’t just say, “No.” She would explain why she couldn’t buy something for them. It’s just one example. I can tell the girls really love their mother and the mother really treats them with a good education. I not only see a very capable woman, but I see her other side. In my mind I think she is a very successful woman. In this world, women can do a lot of things and include their family. Men in the world, always work outside, and women are in charge of the family. But Wendi, she also can do something outside and is charge of her family. I really admire that.
Florence Sloan. She’s from Malay. She can also speak a little Chinese and can also speak Cantonese. We can communicate a few ways. We speak either Mandarin, Cantonese or English. She is very laid back. She’s elegant but also really straight forward. She also cares about your feelings. She’ll invite you to dinner. She is very polite.
Both Wendi and Florence sat on the set and watched the camera. They are very professional and put a lot into this movie. They consider everything. They care about everything and give their opinion. They always shared their feelings.
ASIANCE: How is Wendi in China?
Li Bingbing: She’s famous. The Chinese know her. She’s an inspiration to Chinese women.
ASIANCE: How have the roles for Chinese actresses changed since you first started in the industry?
Li Bingbing: I was in the industry since 1997, so about 14 years. Now the development of China is very, very fast. So the market becomes bigger and bigger. The whole world is paying attention to China. We have more chance in the film industry now. It’s not only me, but the other actors and actresses now. We have more of a chance to work with a global team.
For me, I have to do more things that exchange so people know China more. We know American movies in China. There’s a lot more opportunities for Chinese actresses.
ASIANCE: Who’s hot right now in China?
Li Bingbing: Angelina Jolie. Kate Winslet. Meryl Streep. I love her very much. She raves about Black Swan in China. If you talk about this movie, I have a lot of things to say. This talks about the movie, talks about the actress, the feeling inside. Natalie Portman’s character is very similar to me. Everyone can pick up the same thing. It’s the transformation that character goes through in order to be a certain character on stage or in front of an audience that she wants.
You never know how the actor is feeling. As an actor you need to put a lot into the story. You make yourself very intense and tight. This nervous is in your heart. I really can understand the character in the movie. When the man in Black Swan told her to relax, I could understand that. People need to relax themselves.
ASIANCE: Is there anyone in Hollywood that you would like to work with?
Li Bingbing: I would love to work with the Black Swan director, Darren Aronofsky.
ASIANCE: Is there an ultimate project for you?
Li Bingbing: Right now I’m doing a lot of charity and environmental protection in China. This has been for the past 5 years. We went to Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. In China, I remind people to protect the environment. People need to realize the earth is changing. I’m the global ambassador to WWF. On the 26th of March, at the same time, the whole world will turn off their lights for earth power. I’m the Global Ambassador for UNEP (united nations environment programme).
Photography by Arthur Eisenberg