The new China dolls
Watch out, Zhang Ziyi. There is a new crop of young Chinese actresses making waves on the film scene.
In the 1980s, classic Shanghainese beauty Joan Chen brought a whiff of erotic exoticism to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor.
In the 1990s, Shenyang-born Gong Li and her earthy sexiness grabbed world cinema's attention in director Zhang Yimou's indie films.
In the early 2000s, another Zhang protegee, Beijing-born Zhang Ziyi and her ethereal steeliness, captured Hollywood's imagination with her breakthrough role in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Now the big question is who will be the next big thing from China.
For the past few years, Zhejiang-born actress and former singer Zhou Xun, who has proved her acting chops in both gritty independent films and art house mainstream hits, has been suggested as one possibility.
But she has been blase about the lure of Hollywood, emphasising in various interviews that it is the script that counts.
With a population of 1.3 billion people, however, there is no shortage of talented actresses just waiting to step into the spotlight.
Here are three upcoming names to watch out for:
Tang Wei can next be seen in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution.
The stats: The 28-year-old, born in Zhejiang province to an actress mother and artist father, is a multi-hyphenate talent.
Relatively unknown even in her native home, the actress studied directing at Beijing's Central Academy of Drama. She has written novellas and plays, as well as directed and acted in theatre.
She has also worked in TV in her homeland and won CCTV Movie Channel's Lily Award for best female role for her work in the telemovie Policewoman Yanzi.
Buzzworthy: She beat a long list of hopefuls including compatriot Zhou Xun and Taiwan's Shu Qi to score the international debut role of a lifetime as the female lead in Ang Lee's new film, Lust, Caution, which won the coveted Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival recently.
Can she pull it off? She certainly has guts and ambition. Her big-screen debut has been grabbing the headlines, mainly for the explicit sex scenes she shares with co-star Tony Leung Chiu Wai.
She plays a theatre student in 1940s war-torn Shanghai who becomes the central pawn in an attempt to assassinate a government official.
English newspaper The Guardian's film critic Peter Bradshaw described the leads' performances as "superb" and The Observer hailed Tang as a "revelation" and predicted she would win best actress awards to come.
According to Chinese newspaper Women Today, Taiwanese playwright Stan Lai was impressed with the young actress when he was a guest lecturer at the Central Academy in 2001.
He compared Tang with his ex-student, actress Jacqueline Ng of Eat, Drink, Man, Woman fame (1994), which was also directed by Ang Lee.
Being able to attract the attention of such heavyweight talents means the remarkable young actress is no featherweight.
The only foreseeable hurdle is language. But she has plenty of time and opportunity to brush up on her English on the inevitable prize route Lust, Caution takes on the way to the Oscars.
Yu Nan has captured critics' attention with her performance in Tuya's Marriage.
The stats: This 29-year-old is already a recognised face in France and her star has been rising steadily in her home country.
Like the other rising China starlets, little biographical information is available about Yu Nan other than the fact that she was born in Dalian.
After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy, she made her feature film acting debut in an independent film, Lunar Eclipse (1999) directed by Wang Quanan, in which she plays a new bride who falls for another man.
The performance caught the eye of French producers who cast her in the action thriller, Rage (2003). She is not only fluent in French, she can handle English as well.
Buzzworthy: She has made three well-received Chinese films with director Wang Quanan.
Their latest collaboration, Tuya's Marriage (2006), about a Mongolian herdswoman and her unconventional second marriage, won the Golden Bear award at this year's Berlin Film Festival.
Can she pull it off? Critic Kirk Honeycutt, who writes for trade magazine Hollywood Reporter, raved about her performance in Tuya's Marriage, saying: "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 contains multitudes."
English-speaking audiences will soon have a chance to judge for themselves how well she can act.
Her next project is the high-profile and hotly anticipated live-action remake of the Japanese anime series Speed Racer. Helmed by the Wachowski brothers of The Matrix fame, the film is scheduled for release next May.
She is returning to China and to her successful creative partnership with Wang for her next project, a film whose title translates as Wandering Artists.
In the meantime, audiences can catch her in the Taiwanese romantic comedy My DNA Says I Love You.
The stats: With her sharp features and large eyes, the 27-year-old from Fujian has already been compared to compatriot Zhang Ziyi.
The similarities do not end there. Like Ziyi, Zhang made her debut in a well-received indie film, the coming-of-age tale Peacock (2005), which won a Silver Bear at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival.
She followed it up with a turn in Tsui Hark's martial arts epic Seven Swords (2005), which led Time magazine to list her as one of its Asian Heroes for 2005.
And she made her American debut, like Ziyi, in Jackie Chan's hit Rush Hour franchise.
Buzzworthy: Her English in Rush Hour 3 is more fluent than Ziyi's more thickly-accented speech.
In interviews on the Chinese website sina.com, Zhang said she spent six months in Los Angeles before shooting the film polishing her language skills with the dialect coach who also taught Gong Li and Ziyi for Memoirs of a Geisha (2005).
She also revealed that the first thing she did in Los Angeles was to get a driver's licence and that she learnt to cook while she was there.
While Rush Hour 3 was mostly panned by the critics, its box office has been strong, earning some US$180mil (RM630mil) worldwide.
Can she pull it off? Like Ziyi, she has been moving smartly between independent film projects and bigger mainstream efforts.
These include international co-productions like Protege (2007), starring Andy Lau and Daniel Wu, and Jadesoturi (2006), a Chinese-Finnish fantasy action flick.
In her sina.com interviews, she said that her ambition is to juggle Hollywood independent films with Asian work.
She has already completed filming an independent Chinese film by director Zhang Jiarui. The title translates as Red river.
But she dismissed rumours that she will be working on Jackie Chan's new film, Shinjuku Story, to be directed by Derek Yee.
If she is as hardworking as Ziyi, there is every chance that she will make a name for herself.
The Straits Times/Asia News Network