Eight years ago, the village girl, Wei Minzhi, from Hebei Province became world-famous overnight for the role she played in a film directed by Zhang Yimou, Not One Less (Yi Ge Dou Bu Neng Shao). However, Wei has not appeared in many movies since then.
The poster of Not One Less
Eight years have elapsed and Wei is now studying on a full scholarship at Brigham Young University - Hawaii.
If it were not for that film, Wei would have had to leave school at an early age, tending sheep, and then getting married, like any other girls in her village in Chicheng County, Hebei Province. However, a chance encounter changed the course of her life.
Wei was born to an ordinary family in a mountainous village. She led a poor and plain life. Before she was 13 years old, she had never stepped out of the mountains. She recalled, "At that time, I felt that the whole world was only as big as my village."
In 1998, 13-year-old Wei graduated from primary school. That very summer, Not One Less was being shot in a neighboring village. They were casting the main character–a 10-year-old village teacher.
One afternoon, Wei and her sister caught the attention of an assistant director. Wei was not shy in front of strangers. When she was asked to act out a part in the film, she did amazingly well and stood out among over 20 thousand other candidates. She was therefore selected as the leading actress.
Several months later when the filming was done, Wei returned to her school and life as if everything had happened. At that time, she did not realize the film would for ever change her life.
Not One Less became popular around China a year later. The film won a Gold Lion Award at the 56th Venice International Film Festival. Wei's acting turned out to be a great success. She was remembered fondly by audiences. Her nickname quickly became "Teacher Wei".
Unable to Attend Beijing Film Academy
As time passed by, the influence of Not One Less faded away from people's mind. However, Zhang Yimou planted a seed in the young girl's heart and she began to fight her way into the movie industry.
Zhang Yimou said that Wei was not of the right making to be an actress. Wei knows that she is "not as beautiful as those actresses and her body not as good". But after several years, she still cannot forget that intimate feeling with movies she had through that single fortunate acting experience. Wei defiantly stated, "If I cannot act, I will direct. Anyways, I will not give up."
In February 2004, Wei attended the entrance examination for the School of Directing at Beijing Film Academy, but in the second round she was eliminated.
Shortly afterwards, a PhD candidate from the US was looking for her. His Chinese name is "Chen Ergang" and he was an associate professor at Brigham Young University–Hawaii. In 2004, Chen Ergang came to China to learn more about the educational idea "not one child to be left behind". He thought of the Chinese film Not One Less, so he looked for Wei who was then a student at Xi'an International Studies University. He was deeply impressed by Wei, seeing that she still looked exactly like the leading role she played in the film–persistent and romantic.
Study in Hawaii
On August 19, 2006, Wei Minzhi went to Brigham Young University-Hawaii for further study. Brigham Young is a famous university. It has attracted outstanding students from around the world. Good luck favored her again and she was offered a full-scholarship. Every year, among thousands of applicants, only one tenth are admitted into the university, and it is even harder to get a full scholarship.
Wei leads a happy life at the Brigham Young University-Hawaii in the US and continues striving for her director dream.
At school, each time she met the University's president and was asked: "Are you used to life here? Are you homesick?" Wei's answer was always the same, "I am very happy!"
In the beginning, her English was poor. She could not even understand simple English expressions. She studied English for two years with the help of two American teachers. Her hard work paid off. Now, she can even act as an interpreter for others who don't' speak English. She is the leader of the University's choir and the vice director of the University's touring troupe. She is also working at the University's television station, editing videos and films. Her next plan is to take art classes. After all these years, Wei has continued pursuing her dream to become a director.
On May 18, the Brigham Young University-Hawaii Concert Choir toured China. Wei hosted the event. Her fluent English set her apart from her former self - the little village girl in the film. When she appeared on the stage and introduced herself, she received thunderous applause from the audience.
The ugly duckling has grown into a white swan. Wei said, whatever she has achieved so far is not only due to good luck, but also due to her hard work and courage. She believes that opportunity favors those who are prepared.
(Women of China June 18, 2007)