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Warrior princess finds her style
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Zhao Wei used to attach little importance to how she appeared off-screen, letting her TV and film work speak for her. But now the actress has learned to take care of her image, as Michelle Zhang reports.

Zhao greets audiences after she was named Best Actress at the 8th Shanghai International Film Festival in 2005.

Zhao greets audiences after she was named Best Actress at the 8th Shanghai International Film Festival in 2005. [Shanghai Daily]

Fame came quickly for Zhao Wei. In 1998, the actress became a household name almost overnight for her leading role in the popular TV series, "Huan Zhu Ge Ge" (Princess Returning Pearl). She has remained as one of the most successful Chinese actresses ever since.

Zhao was in Shanghai recently for the launch of a new line of cosmetics and despite an unexpected storm which erupted when Zhao was supposed to show up, her loyal fans chose to wait in the heavy rain for more than an hour.

"I'm very grateful and touched by my fans," she said. "For more than 10 years, they have always been there for me, accompanying me to get through all the ups and downs in my life."

Zhao is easygoing, relaxed and approachable. She cares about people around her, smiling at everyone, listening carefully to "boring" questions and responding accordingly.

It was hard to relate the slender figure to the roles she has portrayed on screen lately, most of which are linked with yellow sands, battle horses and combat, such as Hua Mulan in "Mulan" and Sun Shangxiang in "Red Cliff" -- both are wartime heroines in ancient Chinese tales.

Zhao described "Mulan," which is scheduled to hit the big screen in December, as "the toughest film I have ever worked with."

It was an unforgettable experience. For three months, she had been working under the scorching sun and in massive sandstorms in northwest China, dressed up in armor that weighed as much as 25 kilograms almost every day.

But she liked the role a lot.

"Hua Mulan is such a legendary character that everyone has his or her own understanding of the great heroine. Through the character, I'd like to demonstrate all the good qualities of a woman -- kind, independent, thoughtful, humble, forgiving?"

She also became "thinner, tanned and stronger -- like Angelina Jolie," thanks to the hard work in filming the epic.

When she was in her 20s, she was just like any other girls of her age and did not understand the importance of taking care of her skin and the importance of resting.

Now, even if she was in the middle of endless filming, she would insist upon applying a facial mask every other day.

She rejects heavy makeup even when attending formal events.

"Compared with where I was born, northern China is much dryer -- so moisturizing is very important, especially in the upcoming winter time," said the Anhui-native who lives in Beijing most of the time these days, when asked about her skincare tips.

For the Shanghai event, where she was an ambassador for Aqua Sprina, a new line designed by Japanese cosmetics manufacturer Kanebo for Chinese women from 25 and 40, Zhao wore an elegant yet slightly edgy black Alexander McQueen dress, which was nicely complemented by her exquisitely done hair.

She was once known for her fashion faux pas on the red carpet until earlier this year, when she impressed the press with her sweet, feminine Christian Dior strapless gown at the Cannes Film Festival.

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