Fan Bing­bing proves her suc­cess is not all be­cause of her beauty


Fan Bing­bing knows she is beau­ti­ful. She wants to be known for more than that. When she makes an ap­pear­ance out­side China, she wants oth­ers to know she is Chi­nese. “When­ever they see an Asian face, they as­sume it is Korean or Ja­panese, and that makes me un­happy,” says the 31- year- old ac­tress. That’s why she donned a gown that clearly states her cul­tural iden­tity while walk­ing the red car­pet at the French Riviera. For four con­sec­u­tive years, she has cho­sen de­signs fea­tur­ing dis­tinctly Chi­nese mo­tifs.

“The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween Asian and Western aes­thet­ics is in the tem­per­a­ment,” she the­o­rizes.

In China, Fan Bing­bing is widely seen as one of the most gor­geous fe­male stars. That per­cep­tion car­ries with it cer­tain stigma, such as the sus­pi­cion that she is used in movies chiefly as win­dow dress­ing, that she has a limited act­ing range and she has had an easy ride on the road to star­dom.

A sim­ple look at her sched­ule would de­bunk some of those myths. Fan works ex­tremely hard. One year she ap­peared in as many as nine movies, al­though some in sup­port­ing roles. In re­cent years, she has cut down to one or two film projects a year, but the movies were ob­vi­ously built around her per­sona and she ap­pears in al­most ev­ery scene.

Fan Bing­bing also runs China’s largest ac­tors stu­dio, an op­er­a­tion that in­volves other artists and the de­vel­op­ment of projects from the ground up. Aside from movie and tele­vi­sion deals, she has nu­mer­ous com­mer­cial en­gage­ments and dab­bles in singing, phi­lan­thropy and an end­less stream of ac­tiv­i­ties.

One thing she wants to ex­per­i­ment with but can­not find time for is the­ater. “If one day a play truly touches me, I’d go for it. Not to prove any­thing to oth­ers, but to have a new ex­pe­ri­ence for my­self,” she says.

In the past year, Fan made two cameos. She was orig­i­nally in­vited to play the fe­male lead in Lost in Thai­land, but had to bow out due to a sched­ul­ing con­flict.

The role was shrunk to one scene, in which she played the ob­ject of de­sire for the id­iot sa­vant. She ap­peared at the end of the movie as a sur­prise to the au­di­ence. She ful­fills the dream of tens of mil­lions of young Chi­nese men at the bot­tom of the so­cial hi­er­ar­chy who dream of meet­ing a beau­ti­ful woman. The role has ce­mented her stature as the national “diva” or “god­dess”.

Her other cameo was in Iron Man 3, and Fan’s brief ap­pear­ance was fea­tured only in the Chi­nese edi­tion of the Hol­ly­wood movie. What was in­tended to ap­peal to Chi­nese au­di­ences was in­stead viewed as some­thing of an in­sult, be­cause Fan’s scene was cut from all screen­ings out­side China. “For­eign film­mak­ers do not care about Chi­nese ac­tors. They care about the Chi­nese mar­ket,” Fan says. “They put Chi­nese faces into their work to achieve bet­ter box-of­fice re­sults in China. It’s very pas­sive for us ac­tors.”

How­ever, Fan treats such roles as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence — “to broaden my hori­zon and to un­der­stand their work pro­cesses and tech­nol­ogy”. Fan is to play Blink, an un­sta­ble mu­tant with the abil­ity to tele­port in the up­com­ing in­stall­ment of X- Men, an­other Hol­ly­wood fran­chise.

Back in China, Fan is con­cen­trat­ing on star ve­hi­cles that seem to be tai­lor-made for her. In 2009, she ap­peared in a sup­port­ing role in Eva Jin’s de­but film So­phie’s Re­venge. “Eva came to me be­fore she wrote her fol­low-up to that film and asked me if I would mind play­ing an un­mar­ried preg­nant woman. She as­sured me that the char­ac­ter would be kind and lovable. She has strong fem­i­nine sen­si­bil­i­ties,” Fan ex­plains.

One Night Sur­prise, Eva Jin’s new film cen­tered around Fan’s char­ac­ter, is a cross be­tween Hol­ly­wood films Knocked Up and The Hang­over, but it is a chick flick which ends not only happily, but with tra­di­tional Chi­nese val­ues un­chal­lenged. Fan gets to show a range of ex­pres­sions, moods and emo­tions. “The role is close to that of a mod­ern woman in China,” she says. “Even though I’ve not been preg­nant, I can to­tally re­late to her.”

But One Night Sur­prise, which opens on Aug 9, is just one of the type of films Fan Bing­bing loves to do — “the fun movies that are em­braced by the pub­lic” as she puts it. The other kind tends to deglam­or­ize her and por­tray her as an or­di­nary woman. Lost in Bei­jing, Bud­dha Moun­tain and Dou­ble Xposure were all di­rected by Li Yu, an­other fe­male film­maker, and show Fan in a dif­fer­ent light, nab­bing her many awards in the process. “Th­ese have more depth and more im­pact on me,” she says.

That du­al­ity may ex­plain why Fan chooses Black Swan and Malena as the kind of dream projects she would love to jump into in the fu­ture. Natalie Port­man’s role in Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller has a dark side that may se­duce many se­ri­ous ac­tresses. And Mon­ica Bul­lucci has such al­lure in Giuseppe Tor­na­tore’s ro­man­tic drama that a walk down the street is enough to con­quer the cin­e­matic world.

“It would be won­der­ful to have a Chi­nese boy steal looks at a ma­ture woman in an old Chi­nese town,” says Fan. Per­haps she is aware of the fu­til­ity of try­ing to shake off the siren im­age, so she’s ready to riff off of it.

Fan Bing­bing wants to be known not only as an idol, but as some­one who can act. “I hope to have the hall­mark of ac­tresses of this gen­er­a­tion.” She de­fines it as in­her­it­ing the good qual­i­ties of her par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion — her fa­ther used to be a singer and her mother a dancer — and also ab­sorb­ing the new things from the younger gen­er­a­tion.

“We are lucky to be ac­tive at a time when China’s film in­dus­try is boom­ing,” she says.

But she says the older gen­er­a­tion achieved great things, de­spite liv­ing in a non-com­mer­cial era and not fully real­iz­ing their po­ten­tial.

“My par­ents gave me art in my genes. I set my eyes on the goal of be­com­ing an ac­tress when I was around the age of 11 or 12. I would use my mom’s white scarf and play the role of Madam White Snake and have my school­mate play my side­kick. I wanted to look beau­ti­ful and things of beauty would fas­ci­nate me even back then,” she re­calls.

Now, peo­ple are talk­ing about who would be the next Fan Bing­bing. Yes, beauty helps, but it takes much more than beauty to have a ca­reer like Fan’s. Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou@chi­


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