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Gong Li hits her Hollywood stride

The acclaimed Ccinese actress scores a major ‘Miami Vice’ role, with two more star shots on the way.
/ Source: The Associated Press

After more than a decade as a superstar of Chinese cinema, Gong Li finally has come to Hollywood.

“Miami Vice” — in which Gong plays a drug-money launderer who’s sleeping with the enemy, undercover cop Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) — is the second of three big English-language productions the actress shot back to back.

Last year, Gong played a Japanese geisha conniving against a young rival (Ziyi Zhang) in “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Due out in 2007 is “Young Hannibal,” with Gong co-starring in a prequel to “The Silence of the Lambs” that traces the teen years of future serial killer Hannibal Lecter.

Gong, 40, got her start in 1988’s “Red Sorghum,” beginning an artistic and romantic partnership with Zhang Yimou, one of China’s premier directors. Their films together included “Ju Dou,” “Raise the Red Lantern,” “To Live” and “Shanghai Triad” before the two broke off their professional and personal relationship in the mid-1990s.

Zhang and Gong are working together again with “Curse of the Golden Flower,” which co-stars Chow Yun-Fat in a tale of palace intrigue in ancient China scheduled for U.S. release in December.

Gong’s other films include Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine,” Wayne Wang’s “Chinese Box” and Wong Kar-wai’s “2046.”

Speaking through a translator, Gong chatted with The Associated Press about “Miami Vice,” working in Hollywood and the more permissive stance Chinese censors now take toward films.

AP: You’ve turned down offers from Hollywood before. Why was now the right time?

Gong: In the past, people have approached me before to play, for example, a girl in James Bond movies, things like that. So in the past, they were characters I wasn’t really excited about. They were just kind of a pretty face, perhaps, kind of a pretty Asian woman, so there didn’t seem to be very much substance there for me to really develop the character. But nowadays, there are fewer offers like that and more of these serious ones, where the script is much better developed and the character is full.

AP: You and Colin Farrell take some fast-boat rides in “Miami Vice.” What was that like?

Gong: It was pretty scary. I’d never been in a fast boat like that before, so I was a little bit scared at first. But afterwards, you realize that’s just the way it is. There’s nothing to be scared of.

AP: Did you get to drive the boat?

Gong: They wouldn’t let me do it. They wouldn’t let me drive. It was actually pretty dangerous.

AP: What was it like working again with Zhang Yimou after so many years?

Gong: It hasn’t really changed that much in 10 years. We went back, and it was very easy for us to communicate about how to make the film, what he wanted, what we both wanted. What he loves most is the movies, so it’s quite easy for us to communicate about it.

AP: Do Asian actors have more opportunities in Hollywood nowadays?

Gong: I don’t think I would go so far as to say it’s a trend. I hope it’s not just kind of passing fashion for a new kind of face, like Asian faces. What’s important is for this kind of interaction as artists. It doesn’t really matter who you are, what your racial or ethnic background is. Everybody around the world can communicate in this way. So what I hope for is longer-term cooperation in working together.

AP: What are you playing in “Young Hannibal”?

Gong: She’s a Japanese woman, and she was married to a Frenchman, the uncle of the young Hannibal. This uncle passed away, so she’s left alone, and the young Hannibal comes to look for her. She herself is kind of a strange character, very manipulative. She likes to get her hands on a lot of things. So she has a very great, deep influence on young Hannibal and discovers after a while there are certain things she’s set in motion that cannot be stopped.

AP: Chinese leaders banned some of your earlier films. Is it easier today to get films past the Chinese government?

Gong: I think it’s getting better. As you make films nowadays in China, you still have to be careful in some cases where there may be some sensitive topics that we’d rather not touch upon. ... But things in China definitely are getting much more open, freer, these days. You can see just about anything on television and the Internet in China now. So just making a single film is not such a big deal. And there are pirate videos everywhere, as well. It’s very hard to control these kinds of things overall, so things I think will get better and better in the future.