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Rotten Tomatoes caught up with actress Bai Ling (Red Corner, Southland Tales) on the verge of her latest film, Crank: High Voltage, to talk movies and learn more about the bold and sensual artist, who at times is better known for her off-screen persona than her expansive body of work. Below, find out which romantic classics and modern films Bai Ling names among her Five Favorite Films and read on for our in-depth conversation about her work, her life, and her pursuit of happiness as we peel back the layers of the force of nature known as Bai Ling. Click to go directly to our interview with Bai Ling.
Mentally, Casablanca connects with my world. It's very romantic, about giving and testing, and trusting and loving... And there's the romantic music. Everything is [in line with] my tastes of romance. It's also about an unfulfilled love, which makes everything more beautiful because you can't have it. It's just human nature. If you have it -- you see the person, you see the romance -- then the story becomes practical, like reality. But because it's unfulfilled, it's always a fantasy because we add so much of our own beauty, and romance, and poetry, into it.
Also, Casablanca is about the sacrifice of giving love. Real love, I think, is unconditional; you give your love away to love somebody. Otherwise it's not real love, it's possessive, it's ownership.
I like movies like Gone with the Wind, or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I'll actually choose Traffic. When I did not speak the language, I watched the movie sex, lies, and videotape, and I didn't understand; I thought American movies were always blockbusters, hard movies, with action and male leads. But that film was like pieces of life, pieces of dreams. I did a movie called Nipples, based on my dreams, with different characters coming together...very sexy, and very modern, and very open. I think that's something that's very contemporary and I didn't think a lot of American directors were [that way]. [Steven Soderbergh]'s mind is very modern. I like Traffic because he shot it like a documentary, but there's mystery, there's modernity. There's an unknown danger in it. When the characters are crossing the border -- I just like the momentum of life, when people cross each other, when lives cross each other. In that moment of life, what can happen.
Wong Kar-Wai is one of my favorite directors from Asia. I'm a natural romantic. I feel like his movies --- slow motion, the momentum of people, even a clock running --- are non-traditional filmmaking. Normal movies [have scenes set up] like, I talk to you; you talk to me. Those kinds of movies are boring to me, but his films are advanced. He's also extremely private and personal. His stories are all about innocent love, sort of like teenage love. How people need; how you love. They're very, very romantic. When I talk about it, I feel this slow motion romance, high heels, the mystery of women, sexy, walking by. I recognize things in my soul that are unspoken; a lot of those longings, and unfulfilled romances, and dreams within [Wong Kar-Wai's] films -- they make me feel that.
I'd like to pick Red Corner, because Bai Ling's in it. [Laughs] Actually, I choose it because out of all the movies that have Asian leading characters, it's the first to have the most feminine -- the most brilliant, modern, intelligent, female character ever in a Hollywood film that portrayed Asian characters. In all other films, it's a mystery, romance, or kung fu; but here, I played a lawyer, a contemporary woman. And she has a romance with this sex symbol --- Richard Gere. That combination is really rare on the silver screen, in Hollywood.
I play a lawyer and I fall in love; I'm under a Communist government and helping a foreign man. There's also a lot of unspoken love underneath. I would sacrifice my life for him. She gives on many, many levels; she's not only tough and sexy, but there's intelligence behind it, and a total giving of unconditional love for this man for whom she would die and do anything for. There's a beauty to her giving up everything for a man whom she's helping while she's under danger and pressure from the government --- choosing between a country's love, and being in danger of being destroyed and never seeing this lover that she would do anything for. It's extremely beautiful and romantic to my heart and my soul, and I have a fantastic and beautiful relationship with my co-star, Richard Gere. So that's one of my favorite movies forever, because I'm so close to it. These two [characters] are giving their lives to each other, and that love must remain hidden on the surface of the court system; the modern world is harsh. I like that under the harshness there's a romance, and that romance is so free and so true.
Do you still remember what it was like when you were filming?
When I talk about it, it's like I'm there! I feel emotional, like it's going to make me cry; because I gave my life to the character, and to Richard Gere's character. For me, it's real; it's not acting. And we had this beautiful, loving relationship just like in the movie. You know how sometimes when you're in love for a lifetime, you remember a one-night stand? It's not about the length, it's about the impact and how pure, and how right, that person was to your soul and to your heart in that moment.
It's a very personal choice because when I came to America from mainland China, I was an actress, but I never knew about Hollywood. I had heard of Hollywood but we didn't have access to see Hollywood movies. A photographer was taking pictures of me and said, "You remind me of this actress named Audrey Hepburn." I said, "Who is that?" He said, "Bai Ling, you have to watch her films," and he found me Roman Holiday. That was the first Hollywood movie I'd ever seen. And it's still one of my favorites, because it first introduced me to Hollywood --- beautiful, romantic, very graceful, and elegant. I would like to remake it --- I hope some director can help me, maybe Steven Soderbergh or Wong Kar-Wai. [Laughs] What I remember about those old Hollywood films is that when a leading lady and a leading man meet, they don't have to say anything; you already know they're in love. You root for them; you want them to be together. That's the magic of Hollywood. I think somehow today we've lost a little bit of it, and you don't care as much if two characters get together. But Roman Holiday makes you smile, makes your heart smile, makes your heart sing for these two people. Gregory Peck is gentle and elegant, the kind of tall leading man that I like.
I think we should remake the film. Everybody in America, in Asia, and in Europe, would appreciate it. The beautiful, pure, romantic story --- I wish I would play a role like that, because I have a romantic soul. I'd like to bring that purity to the audience, to have their fantasy fulfilled.
Check out Bai Ling's Five Favorites when she sat down with Current! (and yes, we realize that she added in Slumdog Millionaire with our friends at Current)
Next: Bai Ling bares all in our no-holds barred interview!