Gong Li Interviewed – ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’

     December 20, 2006


It’salways a little difficult to do an interview when there is a translator in theroom. Not only due to the language barrier, but due to spending half your timewaiting for the translator to repeat your question back to the person you’reinterviewing. So if you’re given twenty minutes, it’s really more like ten.

ThankfullyGong Li had plenty of time to talk about her newest work which is about to openhere in the states, Curse of the GoldenFlower.

Curse is not your typical Asian export.Most of the Asian films that appear stateside are usually more action oriented,and while this film has plenty of that, it’s more focused on the inner workingsof an imperial family and what’s really going on behind the scenes. Chow YunFat plays the Emperor and Gong Li plays his wife, the Empress.

The filmspends a great deal of time showing things that we normally don’t get to see inan “action film” like how the emperors palace really worked and something whichI found fascinating to view – the unbelievable opulence that the rulers had allaround them in their daily lives. The film really does an amazing job ofcapturing the lifestyle of the leaders in the Tang Dynasty of 10thCentury China.And while I could go on and on about the visuals and costumes I would justrecommend you watch the trailer so you can see what I’m talking about. They’reon the level of Lord of the Rings.

While the interview was done in roundtable form, there were only four of us andeveryone asked great questions.

While Inormally recommend downloading the audio of an interview, in this case youmight want to just read the transcript as I didn’t cut out the Chinese that isspoken back and forth. But if you can speak Chinese, you’ll really love thedownload. If you want to listen to Gong Li then click here, otherwise here isthe interview.

Andremember Curse of the Golden Floweropens this Friday.

Theelegance of the environment of this film is overpowering to a viewer. I realize when you’re making a movie, itsillusion, but was there a sense that you were in all of that elegantsurrounding that you could actually feel like the Empress?

Yes, definitely I felt like an Empressin charge of everything. The whole country all the people, everything belongedto me as the Empress. This was a resultof the setting and the sets and everything put together as well as the effortthat the director did put in to make it all happen.

Whatabout the clothing? It looks so heavyand yet at the same time it’s very revealing. A lot of cleavage with that kind of stuff. What was it like to walkaround like that?

Yes, definitely. That kind of costumewas very carefully crafted. It was all hand-made with all sorts of pieces andextra fabric and design details, so it was very heavy to wear. But it’s a kind interestingeffect because like you said the inner layers were very tight and veryconstraining and yet the outside layers were very full and flowing and justkind of free and easy. It was a very beautifuleffect. This was certainly the effect that was true to the Tung Dynasty styledress back 1,000 years ago.

Whatabout working again with director Zhang Yimou? I suppose it’s been 10 yearssince you’ve worked together. Was it like getting back on a bike? Was it easy to jump right back in? How have you changed as an actress and howhas he changed as a director?

Well, it doesn’t feel like thatmuch time has passed. It felt like just a couple of years almost like yesterdaysince the last time we worked together. Then of course when we thought about it we said the last time I made afilm with Zhang Yimou was about 10 years ago. It seems so far away. But in factthis time getting back together to work with him was a great experience. Wefelt very comfortable immediately. We had a very fine rapport working with eachother. A lot of things were easy to communicate. So it really worked out very nicely.

I’mcurious about the sets and how extravagant and everything that was involvedwith the locations. How is that as anactor working in those kinds of environments? Could youtalk a little bit about…is it easier for you?

Yes, it’s true. That kind of set,although it was very opulent, everything is colorful, brightly coloredespecially in gold with these huge columns and everything. At the same time we felt a lot of pressuresalmost kind of oppressively luxurious environment. So sometimes you feel stifledand felt like I have to go outside and take a walk, but of course if you didthat you’d discover yourself in the middle of the palace even if it’s an openspace there’s still a big palace with the same kind of opulence and oppressiveatmosphere attached to it. So I think itwas very suitable for this story and for the kind of situation this Empress wasin.

Emotion wasso heightened in the film. I’m justwondering is it a more difficult role to perform when the emotions are so high?

Yes, this is one of the challengesthat interested me about accepting this role is the fact it’s a very concentratedstory. The whole thing takes place in a small space in about 48 hours of storytime so this means that the kind of mood and the emotions are often very intenseand they’re concentrated, crystallized and you have to find a way to really beon 100% or even more each time to really express things in a very intenseform. It’s kind of like a bull fightwhere they fight the bull, they stir up the bull and excite the bull until thebull is going crazy and it’s kind of that feeling when you’re playing thisrole. Each scene is more and more like that and by the end you think maybeyou’re going to go crazy, too.

Perhapsin relation to that, you probably heard the story described as Shakespearian,that sort of very big drama involving people going after power. One thoughtthat comes to my mind when I hear about that description is things don’tchange. Shakespeare is so powerful because the stories we keep repeating, wekeep repeating those stories. What does this story of this royal family 1,000years ago say to people today? What is itsrelevance?

Well, as an example or maybe evenas a kind of example the story of how people are hungry for power, even peoplewho already have a lot of power. Once you get power you want more and more, sothey’ll do anything and they end up doing all sorts of bad things. This is something that I think anybody can understand.

How doyou feel about…you were there in the beginning of the 5th generation of filmmakersafter Mao. How are you with thedirection of Chinese cinema since then?

I know inthe 80’s we saw stories that seemed to take place more in the 20th century,more recent times. In the past 10 years it seems exclusively traditionalChinese. Is that a creative choice? Is there pressure from the market? Pressure from the people who finance moviesin Chinato move in that direction?

I think the one thing that beenhappening is that the directors in China now are paying more attentionto commercial considerations. They think about things like box office appealand what kind of audiences might be interested in seeing what kinds of films. I think this can be a good thing in bringingthe films closer to the audiences. Onthe other hand, it could be a bad thing in that some directors may be settingaside things they really want to do. They might be afraid that some audiencesmay not want to see this or be able to understand such things. So for example, recentlya lot of people are getting back into martial arts films. It seems like quite a trend. Almost like ifyou don’t make a martial arts film you’re going against the trend. I, myself, don’t think that’s such a greatidea. So with martial arts films you think the stories are probably set in somehistorical past but they don’t have guns or whatever to fight with, and so interms of the regulation system in China you have to have the script approvedfirst, so if you set the story in the historical past it might actually beeasier to get the script approved in advance. Just go ahead and make the film. Soit actually serves this purpose as well as the other purpose of maybe producinga film that will be appealing internationally because it’s a martial artsfilm. I think it’s not such a good thingafter all.

I’m justcurious. You experienced a culturalrevolution even though you were a child at the time. Two questions. One, whatare your recollections of that period and two, will there be a great Chineseepic surrounding cultural evolution or is it too early for that? Is that something you can get past theapproval board?

At the time, of course, I juststarted elementary school so I didn’t really understand much about big thingslike the Cultural Revolution. To me itwas just, it just so happened I didn’t have to go to school because at thattime the whole education system stopped. It seemed like a great time, we had alot of fun, didn’t have to go to class or anything. Eventually things started upagain and back to school. In the end itdidn’t seem like such a great thing. We realized it was a bad thing for educationto stop and the whole event of the Cultural Revolution. In so far as the 2nd questiongoes making a film about the Cultural Revolution, right now it may be difficultto get the script approved.

Do youenjoy the anonymity that goes along with being in America?

She doesn’t really care she justgoes out on the street at home.

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