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More than just playing soldiers
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Assembly transformed a little-known actor into one of China's hottest movie stars. Actor Zhang Hanyu has already earned four best-actor awards for his role as soldier Gu Zidi. But the rise to fame has been a long march for the 40-year-old actor.

"An ordinary soldier makes the story extraordinary. He lingers deeply in my soul. And the role is one I had been waiting for years," Zhang says. "I find my inner Gu Zidi from the film. His firm honesty, dignity and honor was just what I was looking for."

Zhang majored in performance at the Central Academy of Drama but after graduation in 1988 could only find voiceover work on foreign films.

In 1999 Zhang met director Feng Xiaogang and became a regular fixture in his trademark New Year films, such as Sorry Baby, Big Shot's Funeral, Cell Phone, and World Without Thieves. He played small roles, in fact, his characters didn't even have names, but he used these on-screen opportunities to polish his skills. When the opportunity came he would be ready to seize it.

"It is wonderful if you can be the center of the spotlight. But there is always someone who serves as a backup, and these roles are crucial to the story," he says.

He says all those small roles of different classes of people prepared him for the role of Captain Gu, a brave soldier seeking recognition for his comrades who died during the Chinese civil war.

In Assembly there is death, promises and life-long friendships. Snow falls, cold air chills, deadwood gathers, walls crumble, bullets fly and blood splashes bringing to life the savagery of war.

The narrative spans over 20 years, and Zhang reveals the different faces of his character at various stages in life.

"Psychologically and physically, Gu went through a lot. I kept on thinking what supported the man to be so determined and brave," he recalls.

It was a risky choice to cast Zhang as the leading role in such a big-budget film, but when Zhang read the script, he told the director that he was ready. So were Chinese audiences. The box office revenue for Assembly has already topped 260 million yuan, the highest-ever for a Feng film.

Zhang calls it a real China war epic and all Chinese people should be moved by it.

(China Daily December 23, 2008)

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