Probably Chinese cinema's most famous face internationally, actress Gong Li (sometimes anglicized to Li Gong) is not as much of a celebrity in her own country, in large part because most of her films remain banned and only available on black market DVD.
Li possesses a radiant and seemingly ageless beauty, which, coupled with her talent for portraying complex, vividly drawn women overcoming adversity, have transfixed audiences and won her great international acclaim. Such is her reputation that she is virtually alone among Chinese actors in not being contractually bound to any studio; she can pick and choose which movies she wants to make and with whom. Though she is increasingly involved in international productions, she remains committed to making movies in her home country.
Li was born on New Year's Eve, 1965, the youngest of five children of an economics professor and his teacher wife. Her parents encouraged their children to become educators in their footsteps, and all but their youngest daughter complied: Li's brothers are teachers, her sister is a doctor. But the baby of the family fell in love with music as a child and dreamed of being a singer. Her mother tried to steer her to be music teacher, but Li twice failed to gain entrance to China's top music school, so she turned her mind to acting.
In 1985 Li was accepted at Beijing's Central Drama Academy. She caught the attention of first time director Zhang Yimou, who would become a major force in China's "Fifth Generation Filmmakers". Zhang cast her in the lead role in "Red Sorghum", and thus began a long-lasting professional and personal relationship that lasted until 1995. After her split from Zhang Li married wealthy Malaysian tobacco tycoon Ooi Hoe Soeng; the couple live in Hong Kong.
Li Gong was named Best Actress at the 49th Venice International Film Festival for her role in "The Story of Qiu Ju" and received the New York Film Critics award for "Farewell My Concubine"; in 1998 the French government recognized her contributions to cinema by naming her an "Officer des Arts et Lettres". She is a "beauty ambassador" and model for L'Oreal cosmetics, and has recorded an album of Madonna songs.
Internet Movie Database
"China's Hidden Face", Toronto Star, September 13, 2003