Tang Wei famously lost a contract to endorse Ponds skin cream when China’s State Administration for Radio Film and Television banned her for her role in Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution.”
The ban prevented Chinese media from reporting on her, cut her out of awards shows and even outlawed advertisements featuring the young actress. But what she lost in China she gained elsewhere — especially in South Korea.
Not only was “Lust, Caution” a rare Chinese-language hit in the country, which boasts a domestic industry that has very little room for movies of any other origin, it — especially her performance — was a critical success.
Was that sympathy? Not a bit, says Lee Joo-ick, who produced Tang-starrer “Late Autumn” and became a mentor to Tang. “Acting counts for more in South Korea than celebrity or notoriety,” he says.
Her performance in ‘Late Autumn,’ in which she played an inmate who strikes up a relationship with a man while on 72-hour release, stoked the flames of her fandom. It also made her the first non-Korean to win the Paeksang Arts Award for an actress.
“While it is true that her huge success in South Korea comes in from only two films, she has always done things right,” says Lee. “She has worked with the press, been humble and friendly, and even allowed herself to be spotted drinking makgeolli (a kind of Korean rice wine).”
And she is no ugly duckling. Lee argues that Tang has a classic Asian charm and beauty that appeals in South Korea more than her Chinese contemporaries. She has also avoided the surgically enhanced beauty that has made so many of South Korea’s celebrities look so similar and interchangeable.
That authenticity has helped commercial endorsements to flow in: Samsung Smart TV; upmarket Japanese cosmetics brand SK-II; Korean sportswear brand Kolon. In Greater China, she is the face of Rado watches.
Lee isn’t worried Tang will lose her appeal in South Korea, after marrying Kim Tae-yong, director of “Late Autumn.”
“People understand that she is of an age to get married. And she is not like teenage K-pop stars or TV drama stars who have ‘little sister’ reputations to uphold,” he says.