“Rush Hour 2”: Zhang Ziyi Interview

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., June 3, 2001 — In less than one year, Zhang Ziyi has starred in an Oscar-winning film, picked up an MTV Movie Award, an Independent Spirit Award and other critics’ awards, and appeared in People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People Issue.

And the most she can probably say is “thank you.” It’s one of a smattering of English phrases the 22-year-old actress can say easily. And as her career continues to burgeon Stateside as it is in her homeland of China, Zhang figures the English will just have to catch up.

“English is a definite must,” says the ingenue (through an interpreter), who debuted in the lauded epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. “I am learning, but it would be something that I would have to learn to fluency. It would be something that would be the strong necessity to be fluent in, especially for English-speaking parts.”

Luckily, her first American film, Rush Hour 2, places her right back in China (as the henchwoman of a deadly Triad gang) and therefore requires little English. She’s also helped by the marquee power of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, trading barbs (and hits) with both.

“I’ve never played a villain before, and the opportunity to sort of try and analyze the psyche of the character and get to know and pull out emotions I’ve never had to utilize before — to be able to play somebody so cruel and cold-blooded, was very exciting,” Zhang says.

And Crouching Tiger was the perfect primer. As conflicted young warrior wannabe Jen Yu who flies across rooftops and obliterates a tavern of men with a sword, the onetime dancer and drama student shot to international stardom. With only one other film under her belt (The Road Home for acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, which was released six months after Tiger), Zhang found herself on the cover of magazines on both hemispheres, mobbed by the Chinese press, the subject of Web sites.

But rather than throw a diva temper, the actress has decided to take her new fishbowl life as an opportunity to influence others. If she’s on an airplane, Zhang says she’ll fold up her magazines and blankets properly, hoping others will take her cue and do the same. With her first paycheck, she bought gifts for all her family and friends.

However, she does admit to throwing her weight around … albeit for a good cause.

“When my father goes to the hospital, he wants me to come and visit him a lot, so that when he’s there, of course a lot of the doctors and nurses will want to meet me and take pictures with me and everything like that. And hopefully, in recognizing his association with me, [they’ll] hopefully take better care of him,” she explains. “Whenever they ask, ‘Can we take pictures or speak with you?’ I say, ‘Yes, yes, I will answer all your requests. But please, whatever requests my father will have, please take care of him well.”

Zhang’s next two films take her back to China, where she lives with her parents in Beijing. And until she perfects her English, she says she has no plans to continue acting in Hollywood.

But, she says of the U.S., “I like the environment, the general atmosphere, and of course the food.”

Rush Hour 2 opens Aug. 3.