China’s Zhou Dongyu may have taken a recent turn as a producer, but the 27-year-old actress plans to focus on honing her craft in front of the camera rather than branching out too much into other roles behind it. She also believes that female roles are increasing in quantity and quality in China, and is hopeful that women are finally being judged on “standards of ability” instead of beauty.
Zhou both acted in and produced one of her latest films, the small arthouse title “On the Balcony,” in which she portrays a mentally disabled girl.
“I was quite anxious about the role, because I’ve never come into contact with a person like that. So I watched a lot of documentaries in order to accurately portray her,” Zhou said at a Kering Women in Motion talk on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival. “That’s one of the most challenging things about my job: to have to understand characters and scenarios I’ve never encountered before.”
She added: “I believe audiences love seeing characters and real people that they can relate with. Film has the potential to cross borders and tell people, ‘Hey, I’m human. I’ve had similar experiences. You’re not alone.'”
As for how women in the industry are judged, “instead of standards of beauty, people are starting to talk about standards of ability, of individuality,” she said.
Zhou boarded “On the Balcony” as a producer “mostly to support movies shot on film, because there are fewer and fewer of them as everyone moves towards digital,” she said. “I really am enamored of analogue film, and working with film – shooting a whole movie with it – was one of my dreams. This movie was shot entirely on film.”
Messing around with film is a new hobby. “I bought my own Super 8 and am just playing around with it by myself,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, and I just love the look of it.”
Yet the star first discovered by Chinese director Zhang Yimou for his 1999 film “Under the Hawthorn Tree” is not looking to direct anything yet herself. “I think being behind the camera or shooting is helpful for my work as an actress, but for the time being I just want to focus on my acting, since I still have so much to learn.”
Zhou came to prominence with her breakout role in the Golden Horse Award-winning drama “Soul Mate,” and went on to star in romantic films such as the Netflix-acquired “This Is Not What I Expected,” co-starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, and “Us and Them,” which brought in $197 million (RMB1.36 billion) at the box office last year.