ZHOU YU'S TRAIN directed by Sun Zhou, written by Sun, Be Cun and Zhang Mei, produced by Sun, Huang Jianxin and William Hong, with Gong Li, Tony Leung Ka Fai and Sun Honglei. 97 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (August 13). For review, venues and times, see Movies, page 81. Rating: NN Rating: NN
If i could only stop gawking at Gong Li, I could remember what I was going to ask her. Or my name. Posed on a chair in a softly lit hotel room, she appears to be directing her own performance of an interview. She sits so still that all the air in the room seems drawn toward her.
The shifting, rumpled translator at her side looks like art direction, designed to set off her beauty and composure. She's draped in cream and black. Some huge geological formation sits perched on her ring finger.
The press release for Gong's new film, Zhou Yu's Train, describes her, matter-of-factly, as a "goddess." Because there are no goddesses left in American movies and so few in Europe, Gong now carries the burden of divinity for movie fans all over the world. Of course, it would be impolite to admit it.
"Actually, I don't know that audiences see me as a goddess," she says soberly. "They just take me as a good actress, I hope - an acceptable actress. It's an incentive to create even more and better roles in movies."
I don't know if this is Gong's line or the translator's, but it's wonderfully performed.
"If there is glamour, then it comes from my movies," she continues. "If I don't have new roles, good roles, then the audience may change what they think of me, whether or not I'm a good actress.
"It's very difficult," she adds, "for them to understand me in real life." Whatever that is.
Sitting 3 feet from one of the last heirs to Garbo and Dietrich, I still feel like I'm watching a movie. It's impressive, but it lacks the range of Ju Dou or Raise The Red Lantern.
Gong's work in a half-dozen films with her director and lover, Zhang Yimou, and three more by Chen Kaige, established her proud, relentless screen persona. Even playing a peasant in The Story Of Qiu Ju, she's imperious.
Zhou Yu's Train is her second film with director Sun Zhou. She clearly seeks out directors she can work with over several films, but she's unwilling to distinguish among the three.
"I'm very lucky because from the beginning I've worked with very good directors," she says. "There's not much difference between them in the course of shooting the film. All three are very clever, and very persistent. They have good judgment and their own unique styles."
The new film marks the end of a three-year break. She chose this project, which offered her two roles, because "it calls for an actress to be very confident and fully express the characters in the movie. There are many scenes where I just run after the train. There are no other people in the shot, so I can't relax. I have to make the train my partner in the shot.
"In other shots I just sit and think. There, I need to express the inner world of the character. It's not easy, and I haven't really done that in other movies. For half of this movie I'm just with the train."
Firm, polished and hermetic, her answers seem to come from the same determination her characters display onscreen. Her steel will seems to show itself in the very set of her jaw.
"For a good actor," she says, "your natural characteristics always play an important role. There are some things you can't learn from a film academy. You need to have rich feelings, you need to be energetic and you must be very sensitive in life, full of imagination.
"I think I was born to be an actress," she says finally. "I can't do other jobs well."