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Tang Wei: Crossover Star Enchants Two Nations

When director Ang Lee first cast an unknown actress as the lead in his Chinese spy drama “Lust, Caution,” there were more than a few raised eyebrows. Tang Wei, a directing graduate from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, was not only unheard of, she was hardly the femme fatale the role called for.

“We were really quite surprised. She wasn’t really outwardly sexy or coquettish and the role required her to be, because she had to seduce (Tony Leung),” recalls Matthew Tang, a producer who used to work at Edko Films (which produced “Lust, Caution”) and now has his own production company, Movie Addict Prods.

“It takes people some time to warm to her, and vice versa, but she has an inner quality that seeps out as you get to know her and encourages a rapport,” Tang adds, remembering her as rather introverted, “although not unfriendly,” preferring to keep to herself between scenes.

Her muted, controlled performance as Wang Jiazhi that gave way to bursts of explosive passion showed her range as an actress. But, perhaps unfairly to her, more was made of her sex scenes with Leung than her acting. Those caused the Chinese government to blacklist her indefinitely, effectively extinguishing her rising star.

By all accounts, she’s cut from a slightly different cloth than many of her compatriots in the business, who see socializing with the right people as a way up the career ladder.

She’s found success again, however. South Korean production “Late Autumn,” directed by Kim Tae-yong (who, incidentally, became her husband in July), found favor with audiences in both South Korea and China.

“She was already popular in South Korea because of ‘Lust, Caution.’ But her looks and personality made Koreans like her more during the promotion for the film,” says producer Oh Jung-wan of Bom Film Prods. in South Korea. “Her performance also made people realize she was not just a star, but a real actress as well,”

People who have worked with Tang have often attributed her audience rapport not just to her looks but also to her versatility with languages. “Late Autumn” required the actress to speak mainly in English, a language she polished in London while sitting out her exile by the Chinese government.

“She meets all the requirements of classic beauty, of course: she is tall, elegant and very oriental.” says director Ann Hui, who worked with Tang on the biographical drama “Golden Era,” Hong Kong’s official submission in the foreign-language film category at the 2014 Academy Awards.

Matthew Tang, who also worked with the thesp on her Chinese-language hit “Finding Mr. Right” (2013), also credits the actress for being able to immerse herself in different cultures. “With Cantonese, she uses the right nuances, the right slang and it is almost impossible to tell she isn’t really from Hong Kong.” he adds.

Although the actress says she still needs to work on her Korean, she was a runaway hit when she became the first foreign star to host the Busan Intl. Film Festival two years ago (2012).

With her marriage to Kim, there are certainly expectations that she will be making more appearances in South Korean productions.

Bom’s Oh adds: “She will now be even more highly accepted as a Korean star because of her marriage.”

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