Zhang Jingchu likes to struggle – with her characters and sometimes herself. The actress who has it all – she’s gifted, beautiful, elegant and gracious – would rather not work than play an unchallenging role, as she proved last year. We first shot Zhang for our cover in early 2010, after she had finished the harrowing Aftershock, Feng Xiaogang’s melodramatic epic about the 1976
Wrapping up two lighter outings – The Double Life and Flirting Scholar 2 – and Benny Chan’s over-the-top sci-fi action flick City Under Siege, Zhang retreated to
“You can get easily distracted in life,” she says now, chatting easily and confidently in the spacious bathroom of her suite at the Intercontinental Hong Kong as her makeup artist and hairstylist hover (making this particular artist look stunning for a photo shoot is not difficult). “I really wanted to spend time by myself; it’s the only way you can get truly close to yourself, to know yourself.” She even spent her 31st birthday last February, which happened to fall on the eve of Chinese New Year, in self-imposed isolation. “That was just my mood (in 2011),” she says with a shrug and a wry smile.
"I don't want to waste my time playing characters that aren't interesting or challenging. There's no point doing movies that just going to be so-so."
It had taken the introspective actress four years to realise her dream of a
“I think people get lazy if they stay in a familiar environment; they lose interest,” says the Fujian native, relating that in more than 10 years of living in Beijing she had ignored great monuments like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City until a friend came for a recent visit. “It’s important to be more sensitive to our environment,” she declares. In the spring of 2012, Zhang returned to
Taking off last year, dissociating herself from friends and family just as her film career was kicking into high gear, shows an admirable determination and strength of character. “I don’t want to waste my time playing characters that aren’t interesting or challenging,” she says simply. “There’s no point doing movies that are just going to be so-so.” Would she agree with our assessment of her own character? “I wouldn’t say that I’m such a strong person. I think I just love having my own freedom.”
Zhang’s radiant inner beauty and sincerity shine not only on the screen – when she is playing non-tormented souls – but also in person. Having attended this magazine’s 100 issues party the day before this shoot – she picked up our award for Most Radiant Cover Star – she is relaxed and her usual eloquent self during our five-hour shoot at the hotel, where she and the two assistants who accompanied her from
Her fluency in English – after high school she studied directing at the Central Academy of Drama and English at the New Oriental Institute in
The latter, directed by veteran Italian actor turned politician Luca Barbareschi, was an eye-opener for the actress used to the spur-of-the-moment, can-do approach of many
Having had “very messy” previous experiences when travelling in
Having a regular day off per week may have helped in this regard. Zhang notes: “People in the film industry are still human beings after all and should have a normal life and rhythm. It’s difficult to work for three months non-stop [as in local and
Barbareschi, whom Zhang praises for his sensitive direction – “he respects your creativity and offers a lot of encouragement and space to actors” – cast her because of her skill in playing strong, dramatic roles. “Luca had watched a lot of my movies and liked Peacock [her breakthrough film for Gu Changwei in 2005] and Protege [2007, Derek Yee]. The character was difficult to play, a mother whose son had died because of contaminated food, and Luca wanted to make sure the actress could bring an inner strength to the role.” For Zhang, whose repertoire includes a drug addict [Protege], a grief-stricken mother of a kidnapped child [Dante Lam’s The Beast Stalker, 2008] and an abused wife [Ann Hui’s Night and Fog, 2009], it was just the kind of stretch that she relishes.
“There’s often not much chance for an actress to really show a dramatic range, especially in commercial films,” she says, lamenting the man’s world of modern movies. “Indeed there are not many good choices for any actor, male or female. I’m really picky in this respect [taking only challenging roles] so it’s even harder for me.”
Could the actress who trained as a director make her own statement in this regard? “It’s possible that I’ll try directing one day, but I don’t have an exact plan at the moment. If I really have something to say, then yes I’ll do so, when acting is no longer enough for me to express myself.”
Hopefully there will be sufficient material to engage this intelligent young actress for many years to come. After her self-imposed hiatus in
Apart from the fact that the actress herself doesn’t drink yet spends a copious amount of screen time drunk, her interest in the project stemmed from its portrayal of the lives of young Beijingers, the burgeoning nightclub scene there and their dream of making it in the big city. “This side of life is rarely shown in Chinese movies and I found it interesting for young people to see it, to see part of themselves while watching the film.”
"There's often not much chance for an actress to really show a dramatic range, especially in commercial films. Indeed there are not many good choices for any actor, male or female."
A second film, now set back for release next year, sees Zhang opposite Andy Lau in a glitzy, big budget, James Bond-type extravaganza. Switch, from new mainland director Sun Jianjin, was shot in
It sounds like a breeze compared to her usually intense onscreen personas, but no doubt the character will undergo some inner turmoil so the talented Zhang can display her acting chops.