The lights were already there. The cameras were ready. And action started as
soon as she stepped on the red carpet at the 57th Berlin Film Festival.
European audiences were impressed by Yu Nan's turn in the Golden Bear
Prize-winning film Tuya's Marriage.
Yu Nan responded with her confident smile. Her full lips and deep-set eyes,
journalists said, were more captivating in real life than on screen.
Yu was at the festival for her film Tuya's Marriage, in which she plays a
Mongolian herdswoman. That role means her full face can't be seen for a good
part of the film. But even her head-to-toe dress hasn't been able to hide her
beauty, prompting Hollywood reporter-critic Kirk Honeycutt to write: "Yu Nan's
beauty radiates in every scene despite being bundled in thick coats with a red
scarf obscuring half her head. She just has one of those amazing faces that
That face radiated even more amazingly when she took the stage with director
Wang Quan'an to accept the Golden Bear Prize for the film at the Berlin
Yu has been Wang's regular actress for eight years, and plays the character
of Tuya, a reserved but determined woman in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous
Region. She is married to a physically challenged man. He decides on a divorce
so that his still young and pretty wife can marry another man who could take
care of her and the children. Tuya agrees, but has one condition for the new
groom: Her first husband has to be part of the package.
Tuya (Yu Nan) is a bride that comes with conditions for her second
husband (Sen Ge) in Tuya's Marriage.
Yu said it was the most difficult film she had acted in. The shooting
conditions were tough, with freezing temperatures and an arid, dusty
environment. Also, she had to learn to ride a horse and camel, as well as herd
sheep. "I realized I was becoming Tuya in real life while we were shooting."
Describing her performance, Wang said: "I can see her passion for acting and
the progress she has made. Years have passed since we worked together the first
time. But I can still see a girl, confident and beautiful, arguing with her
professor in the classroom. That was the first time I saw Yu, and decided
immediately that she was my leading lady."
Yu, too, poured out her emotions: I feel proud that our film has won the
highest honor at the festival, and I'm happy to see the audience here can see
the inherent beauty of Tuya."
European audiences are more familiar with Yu because she has acted in several
well-received offbeat films screened on the continent and appeared at many
international film festivals. Many international critics see her as the next
Gong Li, even though back home she has just started to be recognized by the
media and public. That may be surprising because she has already won a Golden
Rooster Film Festival (2003) Best Actress Award, the country's top acting honor.
Her role in The Story of Er Mei (Jing Zhe), too, won her the Best Actress Award
at the 2004 Paris Film Festival.
"I'm very happy to be among the favorites who could have won the best actress
award in Berlin. Only Gong Li and Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung have won such
top prizes. And I have no regrets even after failing to get the Silver Bear
Prize," she said.
Chinese actresses such as Gong Li and US-based Joan Chen are her idols, Yu
said. "Gong Li is not a vase-like actress in Hollywood. Even though her English
is not very good, many directors would choose her for their films because she is
Gong Li, talented and a veteran. Her acting is excellent and I want to be as
good as her."
Yu doesn't have Gong's language handicap. In fact, she speaks English and
French fluently, something she could use to her advantage in Hollywood and
European films. She just finished her first Hollywood film Diamond Dog, which
too was shot in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Yu plays the female lead,
which she said was one of her favorite roles.
Yu said the character "looks confident and strong, but actually she is
vulnerable inside. The first time I read the script, I thought of Isabella that
Gong Li played in Miami Vice. The two roles have a lot in common. I like to take
up challenging roles, both in commercial and offbeat films."
Her rising stature made her sign a contract with CAA, the biggest
entertainment agency in the United States, last year. She is preparing to start
shooting for a thriller later this month, and will work with director Wang again
in the middle of the year.
Born in Dalian in 1978, Yu started acting at the age of 4, playing role of a
little girl with a handkerchief tied to her dress. Later, instead of following
her family's advice to study foreign languages and get a university degree, Yu
enrolled at the Beijing Film Academy in 1995.
"I was not a typical good student then because I often skipped classes," she
said. "If given a chance, I would choose to watch films at home, instead of
sitting in the classroom." So she soaked herself in French and Italian movies,
her favorites then.
Her first film after graduating in 1999 was Lunar Eclipse (2001), which won
her the Best Actress Award at Deauville Film Festival. The recognition brought
her to French film producers' attention, one of who cast her in Rage (2003).
But the young actress seemed to be unprepared. "I didn't know a scout for
Rage was there," she recalled. "He asked me if I had a minute. Then he shot me
from different angles with a video camera. Later, I was asked to take an
audition. That took about a week, and things were settled after I came back to
Before the shooting for Rage started, Yu was made to attend classes at an
intensive French language school for three months. "I learnt quickly. So when we
started shooting, it wasn't difficult for me to communicate with the others on
the set." The process of filmmaking in France taught her a lot about acting and
sets in foreign films. The possibility of not being selected for the role put
her under tremendous pressure, "especially because I was to act opposite Samuel
Le Bihan, who is a big star".
Yu hardly had any problems with her English in the film. She owes her gift of
languages, she said, to her grandparents who were among the first group of
Chinese students to study abroad. Her grandfather can speak seven languages.
Yu has just finished Wang Xiaoshuai's Left and Right and Taiwan woman
director Lee Yun-chan's second movie, My DNA Says I Love You.
In DNA, she plays an introvert science researcher, Ma Ling. Ma is genetically
prone to putting on weight. She takes medicines to control her weight, and
despite being slim and beautiful, she is worried about becoming fat. This
thought tortures her till she meets the person she loves. Unlike Tuya, who often
vents her passion, Ma seldom speaks her thoughts.
Playing two diametrically opposite characters may be a challenge, but Yu has
the power to excel in whatever she does.
(China Daily 03/07/2007 page18)