Zhao Wei is a Chinese film actress and pop singer. Audiences sometimes refer to her by her English name, Vicki Zhao. She is considered one of the four most promising young film actresses in China (四小花旦), along with Xu Jinglei, Zhang Ziyi and Zhou Xun.
After being chosen to work as an extra on a filming set, Zhao developed a passion for acting. While studying at Beijing Film Academy, Zhao participated in various film projects. Zhao's breakout role as a leading actress was in Princess Pearl, a television series. In 1999, after Princess Pearl was broadcast, Zhao also began a singing career with her first album, Swallow. After her breakthrough, Zhao has been involved in numerous controversies about her personal and professional lives, including posing in a dress resembling a Japanese war flag.
Throughout her career, Zhao has engaged herself in more varied roles, such as Lu Yiping in Romance in the Rain, a policewoman named An Xin in Jade Goddess of Mercy, the playful Qu Ran in A Time to Love, and the gentle, intelligent Yao Mulan Moment in Peking. She has also remained active in her music, recording several albums since her debut in 1999.
Born and raised in Wuhu, Anhui Province, China, Zhao was the second child of Zhao Jiahai (赵家海) and Wei Qiying (魏启颖). Her father, Zhao Jiahai, was an appliance designer. Zhao has one older brother, named Zhao Jian. She graduated from Teachers’ College Elementary School (Shi Fan Fu Xiao) and Teachers’ College High School (17th Secondary School Shi Fan). Originally, Zhao was working towards a career in teaching, like her mother. At the time, Zhao claimed to have never considered the prospect of an acting career, once commenting "I thought actresses had to be beautiful, and I thought I was ordinary". In 1993, however, a filming crew arrived in Wuhu looking for extras for the film Hua Hun, starring Gong Li. Afterward, Zhao decided to pursue an acting career. Looking for ways to leave town, Zhao looked for opportunities to enroll in a film school. She later discovered a new film arts school in Shanghai, opened by the renowned director Xie Jin. In 1996, Zhao received first class results in her entrance exam to Beijing Film Academy's Performance Institute. She graduated from there in 2000.
Zhao received her first experience in front of the camera in 1993 when she was chosen to act as an extra in Hua Hua, a film starring Gong Li. In 1995, after completing her high school exams, Zhao decided to star in her first television series, Yu Tian You Gu Shi. The same year, she was hired by Xie Jin, the director that opened Xie Jin's Star Academy, to star in one of his movies, Penitentiary Angel. This was the first time she had a substantial role in any work. Zhao herself did not find her performance fulfilling, but treated it as a valuable experience. "My performance was pretty terrible," she claimed, "but if you've been in a film by a famous director, no matter how well you did, then other less-famous directors will want to use you."
After playing minor roles in various series and films, Zhao received her first leading role in a series called Sisters in Beijing. There, she was spotted by famous Taiwanese romance writer Chiung Yao, who was looking for actors. At the time, Chiung Yao commented that Zhao was a little chubby but talented. In 1997, Zhao had lost some weight and was offered one of the leading roles in Chiung Yao's television series Princess Pearl. Filming the television series Princess Pearl was an arduous task for Zhao and her co-stars. Zhao herself acknowledged the intensity of filming:
The hard work of the cast yielded unexpected results. After Princess Pearl was broadcast, it enjoyed the highest ratings in China. Zhao quickly rose to prominence. In 1999, she became the youngest actress to win the Golden Eagle Awards for "Best Actress." Zhao's performance received critical acclaim in Taiwan as well; Zhao was named as one of Taiwan's "Top Ten Most Outstanding Individuals in Television Industry." Following this, she continually to star in a number of successful television series and movies and released a number of well-sold albums.
Following her role Princess Pearl, Zhao became a prominent actress in China. In 2000, Zhao starred in a romantic-comedy, ming-dynasty based drama series Treasure Venture, alongside Taiwanese heartthrob Nicky Wu. With her huge success as an actress, feeling that she had achieved all she could in television, she went on to star in a few movies in Hong Kong. In 2001, she guest starred in the box office hit Shaolin Soccer alongside Hong Kong actor, director, and producer Stephen Chow. In there, Zhao played an unattractive bun maker, turning away from the cute image she had earned from her role in Princess Pearl. The actress herself expressed disgust at her image in the movie, commenting: "Have you seen it? I looked disgusting in it." However, Zhao feels her role in Shaolin Soccer was also a learning experience for her. "I wanted a challenge", Zhao commented in an interview. "And he really gave it to me. In China people think I'm cute; he didn't let me look cute. People say I have big eyes; he taped them down. My old characters were all kind of wild; here I was very subdued. Everything I did before, he reversed."
Also in 2001, she filmed another series written by Chiung Yao titled Romance in the Rain. Zhao participated on a romantic comedy produced by Wong Kar Wai under director Jeff Lau as "Princess Phoenix" in Chinese Odyssey 2002 together with Tony Leung, Faye Wong, and Chang Chen. Zhao was nominated for "Best Supporting Actress" at 39th Golden Horse Awards. In 2002, Zhao worked with actresses Shu Qi and Karen Mok in So Close.
After filming Romance in the Rain, Zhao began to focus on filming movies. In 2003, Zhao starred in four films - My Dream Girl, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, Green Tea, and Jade Goddess of Mercy. Each film was critically acclaimed and presented Zhao in a different role. One of these four films, Jade Goddess of Mercy, was directed by Ann Hui, a well-known director in Asia. It co-starred Nicholas Tse, a popular singer-actor from Hong Kong. After much speculation over who would receive the female lead in Hui's new film, Jade Goddess of Mercy, the lead role (An Xin) was finally offered to Zhao. Starring in the film elevated Zhao's stardom even more. Zhao received critical acclaim for her role. In 2004, the 10th Movie Academic Society presented her the "Golden Phoenix Award" for her role in Jade Goddess of Mercy. Reviews were generally positive. In TIME Asia magazine's review of Jade Goddess of Mercy, reviewer Bryan Walsh commented: "Despite plot twists that strain credulity, the film works, thanks mostly to Zhao's soulful performance as a cop torn between love, duty and motherhood. With her elfin stature, Zhao couldn't intimidate a jaywalker, but her convincing portrayal confirms her status as one of China's best actresses." On numerous occasions, Zhao has told reporters about the respect she has for Ann Hui, the director of the film. In an article by Time Asia, Zhao recalled: "In the morning, when I'd come to the set, Ann would scrutinize my face and eyes to see if they were bright or dull. And she'd say, 'I can see you slept well last night.' She really understood the actors she was working with, as if we were precision instruments."
In 2004, Zhao was cast to dub the character Princess Fiona when Shrek 2 was released in China. Further, she won the "Most Popular Actress" award (the equivalent of a Best Actress award) at the 11th Beijing Student Film Festival for her performance in Warriors of Heaven and Earth, even though she only had 25 lines of dialogue in the entire movie.
2005 proved to be a successful year for Zhao after she won the Best Actress award at the Shanghai International Film Festival and tied with Zhang Ziyi for the Huabiao Award, the highest governmental award towards the film industry. Both were for her performance in A Time to Love. Zhao once again won "Best Actress" for her performance in A Time To Love at The 8th Changchun China Film Festival in 2006. Finally, after a four year break from television series, Zhao starred as Yao Mulan in a remake of Lin Yutang's Moment in Peking. When audiences compared Zhao's Yao Mulan with the previous actress who portrayed Yao Mulan, 80% of audiences preferred Zhao's performance. In conjunction, she was ranked No. 4 on Forbes' 2006 List of Top Chinese Celebrities. In June 2006, Zhao was selected by voters as the "Most Popular Mainland Actress" at the 2nd Top Chinese TV Drama Awards
Following her performance in Moment in Peking, Zhao went on to star in two films in 2006. The first of these two films, The Postmodern Life of My Aunt, premièred at film festivals around the world, including the Toronto International Film Festival. Her guest starring role in the film resulted in Zhao's second Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Golden Horse Awards. Meanwhile, Zhao portrayed a taxi driver in her other film, The Longest Night in Shanghai. In this rare Sino-Japanese collaboration, Zhao starred alongside Japanese actor Masahiro Motoki and Taiwanese actor Dylan Kuo (郭品超). The film is expected to be released in May 2007.
In 2006, Zhao took an exam for a Masters' class in directing at her alma mater, Beijing Film Academy. After passing with flying colors, Zhao returned to Beijing Film Academy in September 2006 as a graduate student in the Directing Department. Currently, she is studying under the instruction of the famed director Tian Zhuangzhuang.
Zhao's newest television series is titled Thank You for Having Loved Me. For her role in the series, Zhao received a salary of 100,000 RMB per episode. After three months of filming during the summer in Shanghai, the series was completed in September 2006. It is scheduled to be broadcast possibly by the end of 2006. In 2007, it was also announced that Zhao had been cast as Sun Shangxiang in John Woo's latest blockbuster, Battle of Red Cliff.
In 1999, Zhao also entered the music industry and released her first album, Swallow. It included several tunes from the series Princess Pearl. The album was relatively successful and received several awards; critics commented on Zhao's potential in the music industry. In 1999, China's Pop Songs Chart Committee presented Zhao the "Best Potential Award" for her debut album. The same year in Hong Kong, Radio Hong Kong awarded Zhao the "Best Progress Award." Moreover, Radio Hong Kong presented Zhao an "Outstanding Mandarin Song Bronze Award" for her single "There is a Girl" (有一个姑娘). Originally, "There is a Girl" was a theme in Zhao's breakthrough series, Princess Returning Pearl.
Following Zhao's debut in the music industry, she has released several other albums. The same year, Magic of Love was released. In 2001, Zhao released the album The Last Separation, based on her recent breakup with her boyfriend. Zhao's first three albums sold well in China, selling over 3 million copies, but received a lukewarm response from critics. As part of the soundtrack for Romance in the Rain, Zhao performed several songs written by Chiung Yao. In the actual television series, Zhao's character, Lu Yiping, also performed many songs.
After taking a three-year break from singing to focus on her acting work, in 2004 Zhao released the album Piao (飄), meaning "moving as time goes by." Zhao recorded this album in hopes of coping with the rumours about her. Fans and critics alike feel Zhao's new album shows a more mature and expressive singing technique. Included in the album were hits such as "Jian Jian" and "Continuous Rainy Sunday." Following the release of Piao, Zhao's music career flourished. At the 12th East Music Awards, Zhao won the Best Stage Performance Award. Furthermore, at the 5th Pepsi Music Chart Awards, Zhao was selected as Mainland's Most Popular Female Singer
Following the success of Piao, Zhao released another album titled Double (双). This album included the popular hits "One Tiny Part" (微小的部分)and "Shangguan Yan and I" (我和上官燕). It also included "Fa Xian" (发现; literally "Realize"), based on the theme song of Moment in Peking. The success of Double resulted in Zhao winning "Most Popular Female Artist" at the 13th East Music Awards.
Her music career is highlighted by her wins in the Channel V's 12th Chinese Music Billboard Event in 2006. Zhao won awards for Most Popular Female Artist and Most Popular Music Video for her music video "Shangguan Yan and I." Zhao was also awarded MTV Asia's Favourite Artist from Mainland China.
As a result of her fame, Zhao Wei has been a regular subject of tabloids. In 2001, a woman named Zou Xue published a picture of Zhao wearing a dress with a Japanese military flag on the cover of Bazaar Magazine. The public saw it as a sign of disrespecting government policy, as well as the sensibilities of the Chinese. The Chinese public, sensitive over the war with Japan, responded furiously. Zhao's relations with mainland audiences became strained. At a concert, she was tackled by Fu Shenghua, a construction worker who said his grandparents had been killed during the war. Reflecting upon his actions, Fu told a Chinese magazine: "I know what I did wasn't right. But I believe my cause was just... As a famous Chinese person, she should have been aware of such an important event in Chinese history."
In 2004, Zhao was embroiled in further controversy when Zou Xue accused Zhao Wei of beating her when she was in a pregnant state. (Zou was the same woman who published the picture of Zhao wearing the dress with a Japanese flag). Zhao and Zou had worked as business partners to open the bar Z1 in Beijing. Zou claimed that Zhao had instructed her chauffeur to hit Zou after a business dispute between the two in July. At the time, Zou was eight months pregnant. In response, Zou filed a lawsuit and asked for compensation of 2,246.6 yuan, as well as a public apology. Zhao denied hitting Zou and avoided involvement in legal matters, continuing to film her television series Moment in Peking.
After filing a lawsuit against Zhao, Zou welcomed journalists, while Zhao ignored them. Zou also claimed that Zhao often used drugs with her friends at their bar, Z1. In addition, she told the press that Zhao was often vulgar and abusive towards her staff. In response, Zhao's brother, Zhao Jian, protested that Zou purposely published the picture of Zhao Wei in the "Military Flag" dress as an attack against her.
In the past few years, a few of Zhao's movies, such as Green Tea, Jade Goddess of Mercy, and A Time to Love failed to receive high box office earnings. Because of this, the media characterized Zhao as the "bane of the box office", or "box office poison." When reporters confronted Zhao about this, she has expressed discomfort and frustration. In response to this label, Zhao commented:
After winning the Best Actress Award at the 2005 Shanghai International Film Festival, Zhao became the subject of controversy. Several reporters felt she did not deserve the award.In 2006, Zhao became involved in more tabloid speculation. Rumours spread that she was fighting with actresses Sun Li and Li Bingbing over a role as a "salon girl" in Falling Leaves. Zhao cleared up these rumours by stating she would not be acting as a "salon girl."
After rising to prominence, Zhao became actively involved in commercial work. In 2001, she was selected as one of China's Top Ten Most Popular Commercial Models. Her nomination was a result of her commercial work for Red Earth and Amoisonic Mobile Phone. The same year, Zhao was ranked second on "China's Top 10 Artiste for Advertisement" list. On several occasions, Zhao has also been praised by the media for her sense of style. At the Lycra Channel Young Award, Zhao was chosen as the "Most Trendy Female Actress" in Mainland China. The same year, MTV China also selected Zhao as the "Most Stylish Asian Actress." Zhao also garnered another fashion award at the 2004 Pierre Cardin Awards. Zhao was awarded the "Stylish Female Singer and Stylish Actress" at the China Fashion Award (CFA) in 2005.
Throughout her career, the media have engaged in considerable speculation about Zhao's personal life, including relationships with several of her co-stars. However, Zhao has attempted to keep her relationships private. In 2001, Zhao broke up with her long-term boyfriend. As a result, Chiung Yao wrote her the song "Zuihou Yici Fenshou" (最后一次分手), directly translated as "The Last Separation." In 2004, Zhao ended her relationship with Wang Yu. After Zhao's refusal to star in Princess Pearl 3, actress Huang Yi was selected to replace Zhao in her famed role as "Xiao Yan Zi." When Zhao's past boyfriend, Wang Yu, began dating Huang Yi in 2005, it became a popular subject in the media. The media often depicted a feud between the two actresses. Zhao herself has not expressed any regret regarding her relationship with Wang Yu. "After becoming an artiste, I've gained a lot, but I also lost many things. I got a job that I like; I had many opportunities, and I also got many kinds of love."
On occasion, Zhao has discussed her love life with reporters. "I'm not anxious. I have several friends who are over thirty years old, and they are also unmarried. So there's really no hurry. Right now, career comes first..." Zhao Wei stressed that she will not give up her acting career even after she gets married, as acting is her passion. "If I stop acting, I will not have anything to focus on. Life will be so empty, and I definitely can't endure such emptiness. So, my would-be husband must understand me on this issue."
After rising to prominence, Zhao has been actively involved in projects for various causes. In 2002, Zhao set up a scholarship fund in Wuhu, her hometown. In 2006, Zhao, along with her former classmate Chen Kun, was chosen to represent YALU, a fashion company. YALU had set up a fund of 5 million RMB to help the construction of new villages in China. Recently, Zhao attended a charity banquet in December 2006. The banquet, held in Beijing, raised money for the Yanran Angel Foundation, an organization established by Zhao's friend Faye Wong.