Though not well known in the United States, the 5 best Ziyi Zhang movies pack a potent emotional wallop. Conflicted lovers, flying warriors, buddy cops, and raccoon princesses make up the bulk of protagonists in Zhang’s best movies.
- "2046". Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai’s sequel to “In the Mood for Love”, “2046” is not only Zhang’s best movies, but one of the best movies of the 2000s thus far. A surreal tale of a sexpot science fiction writer who exists as much in his stories as in the real world, the film plumbs emotional depths rarely touched in popular art. Ziyi plays the writer’s next-door neighbor and sometime lover with a complex, unnerving mix of sexual aggression and emotional vulnerability. “2046” is, without doubt, a great film.
- "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". “Crouching Tiger” is, along with “2046”, one of the best films of the 2000s. Applying the grace and romance that would later be on full display in “Brokeback Mountain” to a traditional Chinese kung-fu epic, Ang Lee created a strangely subtle myth that involved stolen swords, flying warriors, gender reversals, and people running across the tops of trees. Zhang’s portrayal of the impertinent young woman and brokenhearted warrior Jiao Long, who refuses to accept her place in society, is mischievous and impassioned. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is exemplary filmmaking, and one Zhang Ziyi’s best films.
- "Hero". “Hero” is a little bit like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” on crack. Not heavy on plot, the film emphasizes the fight scenes, which are amazing. People don’t just walk on trees, they run across water, and, in some scenes, are pretty much straight up flying. Zhang has a hell of a time playing avenging assassin and lusty mistress Moon. She gets to fight with a sword in each hand, flying through trees. Can’t complain about that. One of Zhang Ziyi’s best films, “Hero” is also the best of its breed, the rare film that, thanks to its direction and acting talent, stands head and shoulder above the run-of-the-mill kung fu pack.
- "Rush Hour 2". How can you not love a movie in which Chris Tucker calls himself Blackenese, and spouts kernels of wisdom like “Lee, let me introduce you to Carter's new theory of criminal investigation: follow the rich white man.” One of Zhang Ziyi’s best films, the movie also has Jackie Chan telling Tucker “I’ll bitch slap you back to Africa.” Ouch. Not racially sensitive, but gangsta none-the-less. Zhang plays Hong Kong villain Hiu Li, with a mixture of old school Hollywood villainy and new Asian menace. Rush Hour 2 is hilarious, stupid, and tons of fun. As such, it’s one of Zhang Ziyi’s five best movies.
- "Princess Raccoon". The plot of “Princess Raccoon” is so absurd we’re afraid it would be lost in translation if we paraphrased. Taken from IMDB: “Amechiyo is being hunted by his father for being too beautiful and as he tries to escape he runs into Princess Raccoon, a raccoon in human form. They fall for each other, but humans and raccoons shouldn't mix so the raccoon court causes some trouble. She saves his life, then he saves hers by finding the Frog of Paradise on the Sacred Mountain and so forth, until the tragic finale.” We’re not sure what’s weirder: the plot, or that Chinese Zhang voices the main character of a Japanese film…and doesn’t speak any Japanese. For these reasons along, “Princess Raccoon” is one of Zhang Ziyi’s best films.
And there you have it. Cue up your Netflix and get ready for some great (mostly) Asian cinema.