Tang Wei: Actress Straightforward
Some have said that she is not especially pretty, but has a certain glamour. “A girl like Tang Wei would not be popular in the mainland of China,” Director Ang Lee once said. “She applied for Acting Department of Central Academy of Drama three times but was rejected because she was not typically goodlooking. Finally, she was admitted to Directing Department. She looks just like a history teacher from long ago. This disposition is hardly found in Chinese young people. Even the expressions when she talks are like a history teacher from the past.”
Tang’s special charm could be rooted in her hometown and family. In 1979, Tang was born in Hangzhou, a city spoiled by nature and nurtured by culture. Her father is a painter and calligrapher. Her mother was an actress. From young age, Tang studied painting and graduated from an art school in 1997. Because she was not a typical beauty in many people’s eyes, few people thought she could become an actress.
However, Tang became an actress and even an excellent one. Her work in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution won her global fame and the Best New Artist Award at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival. The media in Hong Kong praised her performance with the word “stunning.” “If Ang Lee scores a 99.9, Tang, as a newcomer, gets full marks,” said Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat.
Tang played Wang Jiazhi in Lust, Caution, a college girl during the Republic of China (1912-1949) period, and the subject of The Golden Era, a biographical film about Xiao Hong, a famous female writer of the same era, two roles for which she seemed a natural fit. In Wu Xia, she played a ragged rural woman, and as a money-worshipping expectant mother in Finding Mr. Right, she changed many fans’ view on her: Tang can do more than just literary figures. Tang has not worked much, only appearing in one or two movies a year, but she still wins awards one after another. “If I am modest and honest, my career as an actress can last longer,” she says.
Lust, Caution’s story is mostly set in Hong Kong in 1938 and in Shanghai in 1942, when the latter was occupied by the Japanese army and ruled by a puppet government. It depicts a group of Chinese university students who plot to assassinate a high-ranking official (played by Tony Leung) of the puppet government using an attractive young woman to lure him into a trap. After the film was released, its graphic and violent sex scenes caused Tang to be blacklisted. Disappearing from public sight, Tang headed to London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to study, where her English became even more fluent. In Late Autumn, a Korean arthouse film directed by Tae-yong Kim, almost all of Tang’s lines were in English, even a part she improvised. In entertainment circles, Tang still keeps a low-profile: She never opened social media accounts, isn’t seen in public with dates, doesn’t retain a publicist and rarely receives interviews. She spends most of her free time reading and attending the theater.
Her natural and straightforward attitude has drawn many fans and won the media’s favor. Media outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan like her because she is not aggressive with them. Reporters of the Chinese mainland like her because her perfect balance of traditional disposition and demeanor shaped by her overseas studies, a blend hardly found in contemporary Chinese actresses. Korean director Tae-yong Kim was also enamored, and they married in July 2014.
Tang gradually reached some special status: She neither tries to please anyone nor showboats. She is perpetually natural and aloof.
Su Shi, a renowned poet of the Northern Song Dynasty (9601127), compared West Lake to Xi Shi, one of the most beautiful women in China’s history, and exclaimed: “No matter heavy makeup or light, she is elegant.” The same could be said of Tang Wei.