Joan Chen, b. April 26, 1961, Shanghai, China.
Although her family was committed to the medical field, being for the most part a moderate sized army of doctors, Joan Chen never exhibited much of an interest in following in their footsteps. In 1976, at the age of 14, her change of direction became clear when she starred in Chinese director Xie Jin's film Youth. She continued to work in film in her homeland of China after being accepted to and attending the Shanghai Foreign Language Institute and in 1979 won her first major award for acting, the Best Actress Award at the Hundred Flowers Awards, the most prestigious awards given for filmmaking in mainland China. The award was given for her performance in the Zhang Zheng film Xiao Hua (better known to the Western world as Little Flower), which would garner her much attention worldwide as a serious and talented actress.
While most Chinese actors were jumping into the lucrative Hong Kong movie world, Joan bucked tradition again and made a bee line for Hollywood. She began studying at California State University Northridge while keeping her eye open for opportunity. Her first "American" film would have a distinct Chinese flavor, as she was selected by director Wayne Wang for a role in his film Dim Sum about a Chinese family's cultural adjustments to life in San Francisco.
Her first big role in Hollywood would bomb. She would be the female lead, May-May, in the adaptation of James Clavell's Tai-Pan where the absence of Richard Chamberlain was the most likely reason for the film being panned by critics and audiences alike.
The following year, the hands of fate would untie themselves, and Joan Chen was finally able to land a role in a successful Hollywood epic. Cast as Empress Wan Jung in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, she caught the eye of critics who were impressed, if not overwhelmed, by her performance. However, the Joan Chen coming-out party did not lead to instant gratification and a green light for endless movie offers. Limited by the fact that Hollywood tends to see Chinese actors as viable only for bit parts and films about China and other Asian nations, Joan found no one knocking down her door and offering up plum roles. For the next couple of years she would find herself dabbling in middle of the road fare and her stock falling. The realization of the allure of the Hong Kong market being that Asian actors are in demand while Hollywood is after the next blonde bombshell left Joan in a confused haze.
In 1989, Joan would be picked for the role many know her best for, that of Josie Packard on the David Lynch created television series Twin Peaks. One of the deepest and least transparent characters of the show, Joan Chen's Josie Packard shows a facade of fragile naivety behind which hides something that grows darker as the episodes click past.
Almost immediately after her run on Twin Peaks, Joan was called upon by director Oliver Stone to co-star with Tommy Lee Jones in the Vietnam drama Heaven and Earth. In 1993 she would star in the film Temptation of a Monk, a film that has been called the Chinese equivalent of the old spaghetti westerns. Joan would take a turn as playing the obvious villain of the film. In 1994 she would ride the villain horse again, this time in the Stanley Kwan film Red Rose, White Rose.
Still eager for the American mainstream market, Joan Chen would make poor decisions in signing up for On Deadly Ground and Judge Dredd, which seem like typos on her resume. Then she would take another full turn in a new direction, becoming involved in a lesbian relationship with Anne Heche in the 1995 film The Wild Side.
Joan took her next step in 1998, when she sat in the director's chair for the first time to direct Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl, for which she was also the producer and screenwriter. The film won Taiwan's equivalent of a Best Picture Oscar and a nomination for the German equivalent as well. This seems to be her new direction, finding it more difficult to be typecast into "typical Asian woman" roles behind the camera. She has since directed Autumn in New York with Richard Gere and Wynona Rider.
Dates, timeline and film history researched at
Allmovie.com and wholesale fortune cookies.