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Triumph of a `Shanghai Lady'
5/4/2005 8:50

Shanghai Daily news

She has appeared in some of Hollywood's most acclaimed movies and worked with the West's best directors and actors but Vivian Wu wants her hometown to be the star of her next film, writes Xu Wei.
Vivian Wu is an actress who has always had big dreams.
``The bigger your dream is, the more you may achieve. So, just go ahead and never stop dreaming,'' says the actress, also known as Wu Junmei in Chinese. Wu, who left her native Shanghai for the United States in 1987 never gave up on her dream either in China or abroad. She recently returned to her hometown and is now re-scheduling her next 10 years so she can work and live in Shanghai for some of the time. ``I am planning to introduce some top Hollywood filmmakers to my hometown and, in particular, I want them to make a series of movies portraying modern `Shanghai Ladies','' Wu says with a grin. ``The film `Shanghai Red,' which will start shooting soon, is just the first step.'' Clad in a black tunic, the 39-year-old Chinese-American actress amiably shares her latest plans with students of the High School affiliated to Fudan University recently during a Uway lecture, which aims to bring celebrities to give talks at high schools in Shanghai. The subject of ``Shanghai Ladies'' has long been a topic of great interest both for Chinese and for foreigners with some being attracted by their stylish fashions and personal charm while others condemn them for their alleged shrewdness and narcissism. However, Wu seems confident about the success of ``Shanghai Red.'' She reveals that it will be different from Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai's more nostalgic movies (``In the Mood for Love'' and ``2046'') -- this movie will be something completely new and set against a background of cross-cultural conflict. ``During my sojourn in the United States for about 18 years, I found that some foreigners still have little idea about China, even when it comes to Shanghai,'' she says. ``I hope that one day my movies will generate popular compliments like, `Wow, you're very Shanghai!' as a synonymy for being stylish and fashionable.'' Wu herself has led a legendary life as an actress and is admired by many of her acting peers in China. She played the strong-willed concubine Wen Hsiu in ``The Last Emperor'' and was the miserable widow in ``The Joy Luck Club.'' She was the arbitrary wife in ``Heaven and Earth'' and elegant Soong Mei Ling -- the youngest of the three famous Soong sisters and the wife of former Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek -- in ``The Soong Sisters.'' ``Acting is where my passion lies,'' Wu says. ``I never expected that this creative and inspiring job would give me so much fun and become such an integral part of my life.'' Born into an acting family -- her mother Zhu Manfang is a well-known actress -- Wu made her feature film debut in 1982 when only a junior-high school student. ``My mother took me to the Shanghai Film Studio for a screen test for the movie, `Forever Young','' Wu recalls. ``Unexpectedly, the veteran director Huang Shuqin thought that I was a natural for the role and this proved to be the turning point of my life.'' Inspired by the passion, courage and perseverance conveyed by the movie, Wu magically changed from being a naughty girl into a diligent student and was admitted into the celebrated Shanghai Shixi High School. Later, a story about Wu in a newspaper caught the attention of Bernardo Bertolucci, the renowned Italian filmmaker. Bertolucci invited her to play the role of Wen Hsiu in the epic movie, ``The Last Emperor,'' which won nine Oscars at the 60th Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director in 1988. Due to Wu's natural performance in the movie as a brave concubine of the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Pu Yi (played by John Lone), she came to the attention of the international film industry. ``That happy shooting experience in Rome broadened my knowledge of the world,'' Wu says. ``I realized for the first time that the world was so big and brilliant and that it was one I had never touched before. It prompted me to make an incredible decision at that time -- to study abroad.'' In 1987, with only US$300 in her pocket, she arrived in Hawaii to study tourism management at the Pacific University and film art at the University of California in Los Angeles two years later. In the following years she won memorable roles in a long list of movies including ``Heaven and Earth,'' ``Iron and Silk,'' ``Pillow Book,'' ``The Joy Luck Club'' and ``Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'' and she worked with many well-known figures in the movie industry such as director Oliver Stone and actors Ewan McGregor and Tommy Lee Jones. Her Oriental charm caused her to be named as one of People Magazine's ``50 Most Beautiful People'' in 1990 and she was a guest of honor at the Golden Globe Awards Ceremony in 1994. She is now also a lifetime judge for the Academy Awards. Says Xu Ziyan, a retired teacher and a fan of Wu's movies: ``It is never easy for a girl from Asia to quickly merge into the Hollywood scene and, from scratch, to turn a dream of success, fame and wealth in America into reality.'' Wu explains her decision to go abroad like this: ``Maybe subconsciously I was still a typical stylish Shanghai lady who always ready to pursue anything that is new and challenging.'' Chen Jiuzheng, a student from the High School Affiliated to Fudan University, says that Wu's personality, exhibiting both feminity and willpower, is very impressive. ``Under her tender appearance and sweet smile, there's an unyielding spirit, a never-ending pursuit of her dream,'' Chen says. ``Her unique experience should inspire today's younger generation.'' Probably the only backward step Wu has taken in her acting career was her refusal to play a role in the TV series ``Wanna Fall in Love,'' considered to be a Chinese version of ``Sex and the City.'' ``Due to the intensive shooting schedule, I had no choice but to give up the role,'' Wu explains regretfully. ``However, I did not expect that my refusal would lead to a great role in `The Beauty Remains,' a sad love tale that was more to my taste.'' Screened on Valentine's Day this year, ``The Beauty Remains'' was a film by Chinese-American director Ann Hu and centers on a tragic love triangle involving two sisters and a casino owner. Wu portrays the elder sister who has a crazy and possessive love. When a student in the Fudan audience compliments Wu for her work in ``The Beauty Remains,'' she smiles. ``I am not the only Chinese to have expanded their acting career by going to Hollywood -- Chow Yun-fat, Jet Li, Jackie Chan did the same job,'' Wu says. ``But Chinese film artists still account for only a small proportion of Hollywood's movie community. I hope people in the Chinese film industry will be able to benefit more from knowing about the work of their Hollywood counterparts who fully understand how to keep an audience.'' Today Wu, who says she is a loyal reader of the Shanghai Daily, manages a happy family life in America with her husband, Oscar L. Costo, a film producer and director. Their love story is also admired by many people and Wu's tip for maintaining the relationship is just ``to talk about love every day.'' But she still has one regret. ``I haven't made a film with my husband so far but the new series of movies about `Shanghai Ladies' may be a good opportunity for us to work together. I love Shanghai so much that I will try my best to promote the stunning culture and fashions of this dynamic city to the world and film will serve as an effective medium.''