Venice: China’s Ryan Zheng Shows New Depth and Ambition

Aside from the experience that comes from nearly 30 years at the top, Chinese director Zhang Yimou is renown as an excellent spotter of new on screen talent. With a history of launching Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Zhou Dongyu, Zhang’s track record is built on finding women whose acting skills are as refined as their looks are strong and striking.

So launching a male star, as Zhang does with Zheng Kai aka Ryan Zheng in Venice Film Festival- and Toronto-bound “Shadow,” is being watched carefully.

Set hundreds of years ago, when China was possibly the most sophisticated civilization on the planet, “Shadow” is a dark drama about a body double, in which comedian-actor Deng Chao pays both master and servant. Zheng’s role as the king is a foil for the struggles of the Deng’s characters and the women of the court.

“It is both an adversarial and a symbiotic relationship,” Zheng told Variety. “The king initially appears somewhat simplistic, but the character expands and by the end is shown to be acting intelligently, strategically, and effectively.”

“Zheng Kai is a young actor with great potential. His role in ‘Shadow’ is a very challenging one, and is vastly different from what the audience has come to expect of him. I’m sure many viewers will be pleasantly surprised by his performance,” Zhang told Variety by email.

That is a reference to Chinese audiences with Zheng, who at 32, has built a repertoire of light TV roles, including reality show “Keep Running”. And it is a step change from his role as Shen in Zhang’s previous film, the big-budget Matt Damon-starring “The Great Wall.”

Though neither man is yet ready to confirm the information, Chinese industry sources say that Zheng may soon get a third role in Zhang’s next picture.

Whether Zheng, who speaks good English, then pursues a Hollywood career, or expands his position in the Chinese industry is currently unclear. He is exploring both possibilities.

“I’m interested in producing and directing. And I’m learning a lot from Zhang Yimou, especially how he handles script, cast, crew, and technicians,” Zheng said. “I’d like to see China produce more films that are capable of being shown worldwide. Maybe I’ll be someone to help make that happen.”

More Film

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Columbia Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Ads placed for the drama had an estimated media value of $5.71 million through Sunday for 997 national ad [...]

  • Circus of Books

    Outfest Film Review: 'Circus of Books'

    Rachel Mason grew up believing that her parents ran a small bookstore in Los Angeles. She wasn’t entirely mistaken, although the naive young woman — then an artsy teen, now a documentary filmmaker — never imagined that, as her mother Karen bluntly tells her on camera, “at one point, we were probably the biggest distributor [...]

  • Themba Ntuli and Ashley Lazarus

    Ashley Lazarus, Director of Apartheid-Era Cult Classic, Returns to Screen

    DURBAN–Director Ashley Lazarus, whose film about the interracial friendship between two young boys during the apartheid era became a South African cult classic in the 1970s, is set to return to the big screen with a film that builds on his life-long passion for early-childhood education. “Teacher Wanted” is the inspirational story of a teacher [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum's Free Association Partners With Atwater Capital for Film Development Fund

    Free Association, a production company led by Channing Tatum, Peter Kiernan and Reid Carolin, has entered into a film development fund with Atwater Capital. The four-year $2 million revolving fund stipulates that Atwater will finance a minimum of five films with Free Association. Michael Parets, VP of production, will oversee the deal. Free Association will [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Box Office: Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Takes on 'Lion King'

    Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” will have to take on much more than a changing showbiz landscape. This weekend, the washed-up actor and his majordomo are battling Disney’s juggernaut “The Lion King” at the domestic box office. Tarantino’s R-rated auteur [...]

  • Margot Robbie Once Upon a Time

    Margot Robbie Says 'Barbie' Movie Will Put 'Positivity' Into the World

    Over the last 10 years, Margot Robbie has stepped into the skates of Tonya Harding, taken up the mantle of Harley Quinn and, next up, she’s playing the world’s most famous doll, Barbie. The live-action film is due out in 2020 and set to be written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, while Robbie serves [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content