A guide to the Chinese stars

The biggest names in Chinese cinema right now

Beijing Frontline Production

Ask most Westerners who care about film, and they’d easily be able to rattle off a list of Chinese directors. Ask them to name some Chinese actors who don’t do kung fu, however, and they’re likely to come up blank. Luckily for you, we’ve provided a cheat sheet to help you know all the names you’re likely to see at the top of a movie poster.

Ge You

ge you

Ge You has the most distinct, delightfully Beijing-accented voice of any actor working today. He’s also known for his artistic versatility, with roles ranging from heavy drama to light comedy. Ge’s worked with heavyweight directors like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, but it’s a series of films he made with frequent collaborator Feng Xiaogang that really made his name in China.

Films to watch He’s quite good in most of his movies with Feng Xiaogang, but Ge’s greatest role is his star turn in Zhang Yimou’s To Live, which rightfully won him the award for best actor at Cannes.

Jiang Wen

jiang wen

Jiang first broke out in Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum, which helped establish a frequent screen persona for him: earthy, straight-forward and often a bit foul-mouthed. Most Chinese audiences, though, first came to know him as a striving immigrant in the hit TV series A Beijinger in New York. Since then, Jiang found his greatest success as a director, but has also kept acting, most recently appearing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Films to watch Red Sorghum provides a good showcase of Jiang’s appeal, but he’s at his best both starring and directing in his 2000 masterpiece Devils on the Doorstep.

Huang Bo

huang bo

Take any successful recent Chinese comedy and you’re likely to find the same actor in it – Huang Bo (pictured above left). This is certainly because of his range and abilities as an actor, but also because (and we mean this in the best way, really) he’s also just funny looking, with a dopey, at times wonderfully elastic face. Beyond being a funnyman, Huang’s also proved that he can play serious with roles in comic dramas like Cow.

Films to watch Huang’s often the best thing about otherwise mediocre comedies (Lost in Thailand, Breakup Buddies), but our favourite role of his remains his first, as a bumbling crook in the 2006 heist comedy Crazy Stone.

Huang Xiaoming

huang xiaoming

Too old to really be considered little fresh meat (xiaoxianrou, the Chinese term for cute young male stars), Huang’s appeal still mainly lies in being a heartthrob (pictured above right). He’s one of the top-earning performers in China and not a bad actor, but his most famous role has been in his wedding with fellow star Angelababy (possible couple name: Huangelababy? Just throwing it out there!)

Films to watch A double pairing of Hollywood Adventures and American Dreams in China is the perfect way to watch Huang discover the dangers of the USA.

Kris Wu

kris wu

Now we’re talking little fresh meat! Former K-pop star Wu may have a weirdly plasticine face that makes him look constantly pissed off (or at least mildly constipated), but that hasn’t stopped millions of girls in China from swooning over him. His inexplicable appeal to women means he’s like the Shia Labeouf of China, but with less annoying 'performance art' antics.

Films to watch Mr. Six smartly casts Wu as a villain, acting as a foil to the middle-aged hero who just wants all these prissy kids to get off his damn courtyard.

Gong Li

gong li

Gong’s frequent early work with Zhang Yimou (some have described her as his muse) has rightfully made her one of the most internationally recognized Chinese actresses. While that remarkable run in the ‘80s and ‘90s will continue to define her career, she’s appeared in movies ranging from Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 to this year’s blockbuster The Monkey King 2.

Films to watch You can’t go wrong with any of her collaborations with Zhang Yimou. Our personal favourite is her role as an imprisoned newlywed in Raise the Red Lantern.

Zhao Wei

zhao wei

Forbes has pegged Zhao Wei as China’s wealthiest working actress, and while there’s no denying her popularity as a performer, what’s really made her a billionaire (in USD, not RMB) has been her smart investment moves, especially in Alibaba Pictures. On top of all that, she’s appeared in box office hits like Red Cliff and Painted Skin.

Films to Watch Zhao shot to fame through hit TV shows and some big-screen epics, but we prefer her co-starring role in the Stephen Chow classic Kung Fu Soccer, plus last year’s Johnnie To thriller Three.

Fan Bingbing

fan bingbing

No person better captures the difference in Western and Chinese beauty standards than Fan Bingbing. In our eyes, she resembles an emaciated ghost or strangely fragile vampire, but her pale, pale skin and absurdly fine features have established her as a standard for beauty in China and made her probably the most popular actress in the country.

Films to watch Fan’s popularity doesn’t have much connection to acting talent. Still, we give her credit for trying (if not fully living up to the role) in Feng Xiaogang’s recent satire I Am Not Madame Bovary.

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