The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zhang lives Ash’s Hollywood dream
- China star on doorstep of global fame, Indians court publicity in prayer

New York, Aug. 14: China is ahead of India in almost everything, as Indian economic commentators never tire of saying. Now a pretty Chinese has gone where Aishwarya Rai has been trying to go for a very very long time.

Ziyi Zhang, a native of Beijing, is described as being on the verge of international stardom with her portrayal of a prostitute struggling with her feelings in Wong Kar Wai’s 2046, which had its US opening last weekend.

More important, she stars in the Hollywood version of the best-selling book Memoirs of a Geisha due in December.

Already hailed by Time magazine as “China’s gift to Hollywood” and on People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” list among other US pop accolades, Zhang has even anglicised the order of her name, from the traditional Zhang Ziyi, ahead of the possible blockbuster impact of Geisha.

Aishwarya, whom Oprah Winfrey recently introduced as the prettiest face on the planet, or something similar, was rumoured to have been approached for a Bond flick. Every now and then there is speculation, the naughty say “inspired”, about a Hollywood break coming her way ' one of these was Chaos with Meryl Streep.

Ash herself, however, has never directly made any such claims.

The waif-like Zhang’s rise has coincided with a Western surge of interest in Asian, euphemism for Chinese, films starting with her role in the big hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), directed by Ang Lee, and moving through Hero and House of Flying Daggers, both shot by Zhang Yimou.

“I’ve been lucky to work with the great directors,” said Zhang, who was directed in Geisha by Rob Marshall, who was nominated for the best-directing Oscar for Chicago.

“It’s fate, it’s timing, destiny. I believe in that. There’s really a lot of opportunity right now,” she said in a recent interview.

Maybe Ash should pay more frequent visits to the Ganpati temple to influence her destiny that is outside the pulls and pressures of Salman Khan’s stars.

Stephen Spielberg, no less, is the executive producer for Geisha, which is intended for a mainstream, worldwide audience.

The Chinese, by the way, has already been a presenter at the Oscars, this year, when Ash ' some reports suggested ' was to walk the red carpet as well.

As a Chinese actor cast to play a Japanese geisha with all the dialogue in English in a Hollywood production, the Beijing beauty had to endure what she laughingly called pre-production “boot camp” to prepare.

“For us, who can’t speak English and must speak with an English accent and a Japanese accent, that was really hard, so much pressure,” said Zhang, who studied English for the role. “But this opportunity to work on this film that has a great cast, has a great script, a great director, I think anyone would take this seriously and do it well.”

Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing 2046, said the crossover of a talented international artist such as Zhang was nothing new for Hollywood.

“Zhang Ziyi going from House of Daggers and 2046 to Memoirs of a Geisha, is no different from Catherine Deneuve going from her French hits to American success, or Sophia Loren going from Italian movies to big Hollywood star,” he said. “It’s happening with Asian actresses today.”

There’s hope for Ash yet. Michael Douglas made an announcement about doing a movie with her on his trip to Mumbai earlier this year.

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