Tang Wei: back better than ever

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In Crossing Hennessy, Tang Wei plays a mainland girl living in Hong Kong with her relatives, who dresses simply and has no great expectation of life. [China Daily]

After a hiatus of three years from acting in films, Tang Wei is appearing in the comedy Crossing Hennessy.

Tang Wei has returned to the silver screen in her first role since she played a student-turned spy in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution.

This time, however, she is in a more light-hearted role, playing the "girl next door" in Crossing Hennessy, a romantic comedy that premieres on Friday.

"I liked the script from the very beginning," Tang says in an e-mail interview. "It is a comedy Oi-lin (her role) is comic in some ways, too, but at the same time, she experiences hardships and frustrations. She is a girl who does not have a smooth life."

Few, if any, actresses embody such tragicomic elements as Tang, whose career path has been far from smooth.

Three years ago she was chosen by Ang Lee from thousands of aspiring candidates to play Wang Jiazhi, the lead role in Lust, Caution, an adaptation of the novella by the writer Eileen Chang.

The film's subject matter - the complicated relationship between a young spy and a traitor - and the graphic nude scenes brought Tang fame but also controversy.

Then she vanished from the big screen for three years, supposedly because of political sensitivities, though it would seem all she had done was appear in a movie that was passed by censors.

In her new role as Oi-lin, a mainland girl living in Hong Kong with her relatives, Tang appears dressed in plain clothes and with a simple hairstyle. She likes reading novels, during breaks working in her uncle's sanitary ware store.

"She is an ordinary girl, who has no great expectations of life," Tang says. "But she is down to earth, working hard to build a life. She loves reading and lives in her own little world. In busy Hong Kong, she is kind of an outsider."

The seemingly mild-mannered girl has a stubborn streak, however, and insists on waiting for her boyfriend to be released from prison and hires a lawyer to help him out.

Although her uncle is against the relationship she sticks with her man, until she later discovers the two are not suited to each other. Then she leaves him, without hesitation.

"Oi-lin and Tang have something in common," says Yuan Hong, a producer of dramas and long-time friend of Tang. "Tang is a lovely, considerate girl who has her own beliefs and adheres to them. She knows clearly what the right thing to do is."

Tang has been busy over the past three years. She attended theater courses in London, learned ancient Chinese at home and perfected her Cantonese and English.

"I enjoy acting on the stage, in English, it is awesome!" she says. "At the summer courses and workshops in London, I learned Shakespearean tragicomedy, tragedies from Jacobean times and the Alexander Technique, which helps me relax."

She also worked as a volunteer in Beijing and Hangzhou for the national tour of The Peach Blossom Land, a popular stage drama.

Her friend Yuan is the show's producer. He recalls Tang took around the donation box to help out victims of the Sichuan earthquake, in Beijing, in plain clothes and without any makeup. Many people did not recognize her. She also volunteered to help clean the rehearsal room and stage, he says.

In Yuan's eyes, Tang is the same girl he met at the Central Academy of Drama campus 10 years ago. Tang later performed in a drama Yuan produced and they became good friends.

"In the breaks in-between rehearsals, she was always the one who helped clean, collect props or clear up the stage. She is famous now, but she still does these things," Yuan says.

"Blossom has been staged more than 200 times and over all these years it is Tang Wei who cleaned the floor best. She always tries her best. I believe with her earnestness and hard work she would do great in any career, not only acting."

In Hennessy Tang speaks Cantonese and appears with a Hong Kong cast that includes Jacky Cheung and Danny Lee.

To hone her Cantonese for the film she took language courses before the film started and insisted her Hong Kong colleagues talked to her in the dialect.

"I like bargaining in markets the most," she says. "Also I went to sanitary ware shops to learn the real jargon."

Her next film is Late Autumn, in which she plays a parolee. She and South Korean actor Hyeon Bin will be involved in a heartbreaking love story directed by Kim Tae-yong. Set in Seattle, the film is all in English.

"She is eager to learn," Yuan says. "People say she has a flair for language, but she is only hard-working. Studying ancient Chinese was not for any specific purpose, just because she thinks she should improve it."

Tang's recent favorite film is Ponyo, an animation by Japan's Hayao Miyazaki. It centers on a goldfish princess who longs to become human.

"It is simple but full of emotions," she says.

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