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Gong Li says all cultures connected

Actress attributes her international success to global outlook

While showing obvious pride for her ethnic heritage, internationally acclaimed Chinese-born actress Gong Li says acting is not a “local” job.

“I think an actress should go anywhere in the world to perform,” Gong told reporters Monday at The Shilla Seoul, ahead of the Korean premiere of her Hollywood mystery thriller, “Shanghai.”

“I think all cultures are connected and as an actress I had a lot of opportunities to experience other cultures especially by working on five films in Hollywood. I heard there are many Korean actors and actresses who have broken into the American film industry. I hope you combine your culture with others and create something new by acting overseas.”

Dressed in white shirt with black dress pants, Gong bowed with the palms of her hands together in front of the media crew. This is her first official visit to Korea.

“I’ve visited Korea many times unofficially,” Gong told reporters. “I was here for commercial shoots and even for a location hunting for my movie ‘Shanghai,’ though we ended up filming in Thailand.”

Gong said she is especially interested in Korea’s Pusan International Film Festival. 
Chinese-born actress Gong Li waves at a press conference in promotion of her new film, “Shanghai,” at The Shilla Seoul, Monday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Chinese-born actress Gong Li waves at a press conference in promotion of her new film, “Shanghai,” at The Shilla Seoul, Monday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

“I’d really like to attend the festival one day with my film selected in its competitive section,” she said.

Directed by Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom, “Shanghai” tells the story of Paul Soames (John Cusack), an American agent from the Naval Intelligence Office who arrives in Shanghai during World War II to visit his friend only to discover he has been murdered.

Gong stars as Anna Lan-Ting, a beautiful, seductive Shanghai woman who is married to the city’s most powerful gangster boss (Chow Yun-fat). She also works as a secret anti-Japanese agent, in hopes of saving China from the Japanese occupation.

In the process of investigating what is behind his friend’s death, Soames falls in love with Anna, and discovers a much larger secret of his own government and Japan that will soon change world history forever.

“My character, Anna, is a woman who had studied overseas and returned to China to work for her country,” Gong told reporters.

“A lot of real-life, foreign-educated Chinese women actually returned to China at the time and worked as secret agents against the Japanese. Anna is a mysterious, wise and very strong woman. I enjoyed playing her.”

Setting 1941 Shanghai as its background, in the months leading up to the Japanese bombing of the Pearl Harbor, “Shanghai” delves into China’s complex political turmoil during World War II.

“In the last part of the movie, there is a line where Anna says, ‘I am returning to Shanghai no matter what,’ as she leaves the city,” said Gong.

“I felt touched as I was saying the line out loud. I worked on this film with a great sense of responsibility as a Chinese actress.”

While Gong introduced the film as “a movie about China from a foreign perspective,” she thinks the movie realistically portrays Shanghai in the 1940s.

“The screenwriter researched for nine years prior to the shooting of this film,” Gong said. “I think this movie is very realistic and true (to history).”

Gong said she always made her own decisions throughout her career. “I would never do something that I don’t want to do or something that others force me to do,” she said.

“There were some films I chose that became successful while some didn’t. I am still willing to take risks and choose to play for films that I want, not anyone else.”

In terms of her international prominence, Gong said it’s because of her persistence.

“I’ve been concentrating only on my acting career ever since I got into the movie industry,” she said. “I did not try anything else ― no directing, no producing. I think I got to be where I am because I only focused on one thing.”

Gong, who now holds Singaporean citizenship, rose to international prominence for her roles in renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s films from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, including “Red Sorghum” (1987) and “Raise the Red Lantern” (1991).

She won numerous awards, including the Cannes Festival Trophy, New York Film Critics Circle Award, and the People’s Hundred Flowers Awards, one of the most prestigious film awards in China.

Gong has another film set to be released this year, “What Women Want,” where she plays a stern professional woman working at an advertising agency.

“I’ve been choosing costume dramas over contemporary films only because I found a lot of modern characters too simple,” Gong said.

“But the character I play in my new film, ‘What Women Want,’ is very complex and has a lot of stories to offer.”

“Shanghai” opens in theaters in Korea on Jan. 27.

By Claire Lee (