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« Wu Zetian - China's only female Emperor & The Story of Mu Dan Hua | Main | Yi Zhou - Contemporary Female Chinese Artist »

10 Famous Chinese Female Movie Stars


10 Famous Chinese Female Movie Stars

 (There are YouTube videos for each actress, please allow time for the page to download, it is worth the wait)


1. Ruan Linyu (1910-1935)

Ruan’s virtuoso acting talent brought her universal acclaim both in the film world and among the Chinese cinema-going public. The first of her 29 starring roles was  the 1927 film, The Couple in Name. During her short life Ruan played women from all social backgrounds, breaking the tradition of stylized roles and bringing Chinese cinema into the realm of social realism. Her most acclaimed performance was in the movie Goddess, in which she plays a woman forced into prostitution to support her son. Socially shunned and exploited to the point of madness she is eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison for striking out at her tormentor. Cineastes in the east and west agree that Ruan’s performance in this silent movie is as outstanding today as it was in 1934. Her every gesture and facial nuance is loaded with expression that still has the power to mesmerize the most sophisticated of film goers and critics. As Australian film writer Lesley Chow says in an article in Bright Lights Film Journal, “This is an actress who shows excitement down to the curl of her fingers, and whose face reveals every kind of mercurial change.” Ruan’s suicide just one year after she starred in Goddess constituted an indictment of media persecution as well as a tragic loss to world cinema.




2. Butterfly Hu, (1907-1989)

A contemporary of Ruan Lingyu, Hu's acting career started at the end of the 1920s. Having successfully maintained her star status in the transition from silent movies to talking pictures, she was at the top of her profession in the 1930s and 1940s and retired in 1967. Hu starred in China's first talking picture, Songstress Red Peony in 1931. In it she plays a goodhearted but simple woman incapable of retaliating against her husband's abusive behavior, instead unquestioningly accepting it out of a sense of duty and lack of alternatives. Hu's most acclaimed role is in the 1933 film Twin Sisters, in which she portrays twins separated at birth, reared in entirely different environments and consequently with completely different characters. It is regarded as her best film. Hu's other roles include maid, loving mother, teacher, actress, prostitute, factory worker, farm girl – every type of woman in China at that time. Hu Die is rare among film stars in having both a successful film career and family life. After retiring from public life in 1967 she emigrated to Canada, where she died of natural causes in 1989. 





3. Bai Yang (1920-1997):

Bai Yang rose to fame in the 1936 movie Crossroads, one of the genre of that time that made explicit references to the Japanese occupation. She features in the romantic sub-plot wherein Zhao (played by Zhao Dan) falls in love with a young textile factory technician Yang Yiying (Bai Yang) not realizing that she is his hated rooming-house next-door neighbor. Bai Yang convincingly portrays in this film the image of a naive but ambitious young woman, full of hopes and dreams. Her finest role is generally regarded as that of Xiang Lin Sao in the 1956 film adaptation of Lu Xun’s short story New Year Sacrifice. Her later roles, in such films as For the Sake of Peace, Jin Yuji and Dongmei epitomize the grace, strength and refinement of Eastern women.






4. Shang Guan Yun Zhu (1922-1968):

Petite, and never a beauty, Shangguan Yunzhu’s vitality and ability to imply a host of emotions, through a slow blink or slight turn of the head, nevertheless captivated her audience. In Xie Jin’s groundbreaking film Stage Sisters of 1964 Shang took the role of Shang Shuihua, a fading star of Shaoxing opera whose public had abandoned her. Her tragic portrayal of a woman left behind in one of China’s many tides of change merits her a place among China’s finest exponents of critical realism. But Shangguan Yunzhu’s stardom came to a tragic end, when she, like Ruan Lingyu, took her own life.





 (This Video is downloaded from China, so it may be a little slow - it is in Chinese, but the film is very interesting)



5. Zhou Xuan (1920-1957):  

Zhou Xuan, born Su Pu in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, rose above her miserable childhood to become one of China’s most popular singing and acting performance artists. Zhou never recovered from the pain of losing touch with her blood parents, having been sold as a child by a drug-addict uncle and eventually adopted by the Zhou family. In 1931 Zhou joined the Bright Moon Song & Dance Troupe in Shanghai, and stole the show in her leading role in Express Train. The vulnerable quality of her exquisite vocals soon made Zhou one of the most successful and enduring recording artist of the gramophone era. The Chinese public, having taken her to their hearts, voted her top of the ten best singers China in 1934 in the Shanghai TV network Golden Voice singing competition. Zhou’s starring role as Xiaohong in Yuan Muzhi’s Street Angel -- a comment on the plight of women in an overtly patriarchal society -- established Zhou as an accomplished actress as well as singer. After the September 18 incident in 1931, when the Japanese invaded northeastern Shenyang and prepared to set up the puppet state of Manchukuo, Zhou performed in the grand modern drama, Safeguard Lugou Bridge. She later traveled with the Shanghai Drama Group to the Philippines on a morale-boosting tour. Zhou returned to Shanghai in 1950. She spent her remaining years in and out of mental institutions, and died in 1957, possibly from encephalitis after suffering a nervous breakdown.


周璇 Zhou Xuan, 阮玲玉 Ruan Lingyu - 夜上海 Ye Shang Hai (Nightlife in Shanghai)





6. Qin Yi (1922- ):

Famous Pingju opera singer Xin Fengxia once described Shanghai-born actress Qin Yi as, “the most beautiful woman in Chinese performing arts.” During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, Qin and her peers Bai Yang, Shu Xiuwen, and Zhang Ruifang were honored in Chongqing as China’s Top Four Actresses of stage and screen. Qin returned to Shanghai in 1947, after the war had ended. One of her early films is The Family with Chivalry, about an intelligence gatherer during the Japanese occupation. She came to fame in the movie Remote Love, about a university professor who attempts -- and fails -- to use his maidservant as proof of his theories about women. After the establishment of New China, Qin Yi worked at the Shanghai Film Studio and was later Deputy Head of the Group Arts Center. In 1983, she appeared in and was also artistic consultant for the TV series Under the Roofs of Shanghai. Qin has appeared in more than 30 films and is a perennial favorite among generations of movie fans.


Qin Yi singing Shanghai 1948



7. Liu Xiaoqing (1951- ):

Liu Xiaoqing has arisen from her humble origins and modest educational background in Sichuan to become one of China’s most successful actresses. She worked as farm laborer and publicity officer in the Chinese Army before joining the Chengdu Military Drama Group. Since then she has reigned as one of China’s most accomplished and well-paid actors. Among her best roles are her two portrayals in the early 1980s of the Empress Dowager Cixi in The Burning of the Imperial Palace and Reign Behind the Curtain. She also took the lead role in Furon Zhen's film adaptation of Gu Hua's comment on the excesses of the “cultural revolution,” Hibiscus Town.  Liu is one of the generation to have survived the three-year ‘great leap forward’ (1959-61) and the “cultural revolution” (1966-76) and has maintained her stardom in the Reform and Opening Up period. Liu attributes her ability to perform a wide range of roles to having lived through China’s most significant modern-day social and political transitions. Although she recently scandalized the media when she was prosecuted for tax avoidance, it in no way tarnished her standing as an accomplished and magnetic performer of two decades.

The Secret History of Wu Zetian Cast: Yin Tao (殷桃), Liu Xiao Qing (刘晓庆)



8. Lin Qingxia (1954- ):

Taiwan actress Lin Qingxia (Brigitte Lin) had a 20-year career after shooting to fame at the age of 16 in the movie Outside the Window. At the age of 21 she played the army woman Yang Huimin, who swam across a river to give the national flag to eight hundred heroes, in the movie Eight Hundred Heroes of 1975, and a year later won the Best Actress award at the 22nd Asia Film Festival. Lin’s most popular roles have been in the film adaptations of Taiwan writer Qiong Yao’s Cloud of Romance and The Misty Moon which she co-starred with Qin Xianglin and her then off-screen lover Qin Han. In 1980, Lin decided to go to the US to improve her acting skills, and in 1984 began a course of study at San Diego University. She retired from movies after marrying a Hong Kong businessman in 1990.





1970s love film MTV



9. Gong Li (1965- ):

Her professional partnership with Zhang Yimou established Gong Li as one of the first internationally acclaimed Chinese actresses. Over the course of four or five years she rose from being a drama student to the first Chinese actor ever to win an international film festival award. Gong Li distinguished her breadth of scope in Zhang Yimou’s The Story of Qiuju in 1992, about a woman farmer’s quest for justice. It won her the China Film Association Golden Rooster award and the Hundred Flowers award and also the Golden Lion award at the 49th Venice Film Festival. Gong holds France's Légion d'Honneur and was named in People Magazine as one of the world’s 50 most beautiful women. She won the Special Prize at the World Film Festival in Montreal, and has been a distinguished guest at the 51st Cannes Festival. The Oscar nominee is now chairwoman of the Berlin International Film Festival, the Venice International Film Festival and Tokyo International Film Festival. She is also the image ambassadress for the French cosmetics company L’Oreal Paris.



Gong Li 鞏俐 - Tribute



Raise of the Red Lantern - Meishan Sings (1991)



The Story of Qiu Ju trailer



10. Zhang Manyu (1964- )

Hong Kong actress Zhang Manyu has an uncanny talent for highlighting the essential beauty of each woman, no matter how different, she portrays. Her role in Wong Karwai’s In the Mood for Love epitomized the suppressed passion and despair of an outwardly poised, eternally elegant Eastern beauty. In complete contrast was her part in the film Clean, which she made in 1994 with her former husband French director Olivier Assay, about  a recovering heroin addict determined to win back the custody of her son after the death of her husband from an overdose. This performance won her the Best Actress award at Cannes, making her the first Asian actor ever honored at this most prestigious film festival. Zhang is also a Berlin Best Actress, a five-time Hong Kong Film Award and five-time Taiwan Golden Horse winner, and has won awards at the Asia Pacific Film Festival, the Hawaii International Film Festival and the 10th Shanghai International Film Festival. Among her 70 film roles since starting her career in 1983, Zhang's portrayal of the brilliant, melancholic actress Ruan Lingyu in Center Stage, the vibrant quality of her role in Red Dust, and lust for life of her character in New Dragon Gate Inn stand testament to Zhang's emotional range and acting excellence.








Center Stage 阮玲玉 Ruan Ling Yu (1992) Trailer



Chinese Movies