Monday, November 2, 2009

October Flavour of the Month: Jiang Wenli

Actress Jiang Wenli (蒋雯丽) may be considering a larger trophy cabinet after last month's triumph at two different film award ceremonies. At the prestigious Golden Rooster Awards she shared the Best Actress prize for her moving performance in And the Spring Comes (立春). The day before she won the Audience Award at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea for her directorial debut, Lan (Chinese title 我们天上见 or We See the Sky).

And the Spring Comes was released back in 2007 - the Golden Roosters are held every second year so 2009 was the first year she was eligible. She had already been honoured for her performance at the Rome International Festival in 2007, where the film received its premiere. The film, directed by Jiang's husband Gu Changwei, takes place in a bleak northern industrial town. The role of a plain-looking woman possessed with a beautiful voice and grand dreams of an opera career required Jiang to put on 30 pounds, and make-up effects to make her face blotchy and teeth uneven.

Lan is a film that has been five years in the making. A labour of love for Jiang, she not only directed it but wrote the original screenplay, and the film has strong autobiographical elements. It's set during the 1960s and 70s, a period which many Chinese from Jiang's generation now view with a certain nostalgia despite the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. It tells the story of the relationship between a young girl and her grandfather who has the responsibility of raising the girl when her parents are sent off to a collective farm.

Jiang Wenli was born in 1969 in a small town in Anhui province, and might have spent her life working in the local waterworks if she hadn't been accepted into the prestigious Beijing Film Academy. From the start she showed a talent for expressing genuine emotion and made a memorable early appearance in the classic Farewell My Concubine in 1992 (she played the prostitute forced to give up her child at the beginning of the film).

It wasn't until 1997 however that she became a household name, starring in the TV drama series Hand in Hand (牵手). At the time the series was the most popular ever shown on Chinese television and her performance won her China's Emmy - the Feitian TV award for Best Actress. It's for her TV roles that she's best-known in China. She played the Miranda character in China's version of Sex and the City, Longing for Tan Ailin (好想好想谈恋爱) in 2003. She then won multiple awards for her performance as a long-suffering wife in Golden Anniversary (金婚) - a series that showed through a couple's 50-year marriage the changing face of China itself.

Jiang has yet to feature in a blockbuster film that might win her the global popularity her acting probably deserves. And as she enters her forties the chances of her being cast in a James Bond film or martial arts epic are quickly diminishing. Hopefully her blossoming directing career can win her further plaudits and wider international recognition of her talents.

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