A Guide to Recognizing Your Stars Part 1: Chinese Female Leads


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Galaxy By Robert Cain for China Film Biz
January 11, 2015

This is the first of a 2-part series.

Who are the kings and queens of the Chinese box office? It’s a pertinent question even if you don’t work in China’s film business, because owing to the size of their domestic market, these individuals are some of the world’s biggest box office draws.

They may not yet rival their Hollywood counterparts in earning power—their films don’t travel well outside the People’s Republic—but they are catching up fast. As China’s box office continues to boom, and as Hollywood studios increasingly cast Chinese stars in their movies to boost their PRC results, many of these actors will enjoy increasing global clout

You may not recognize some of the names mentioned below. Even if you’re familiar with the comings and goings of Chinese cinema, you may find yourself surprised by the names that make the list, and the ones that don’t. But if you’re in any way involved in the global entertainment industry, you’ll want to be acquainted with the who’s who of the Chinese movie scene.

This article will focus on China’s female stars, and a subsequent article will focus on the males. The actors in both articles are ranked by the aggregated mainland box office revenues, calculated in Chinese Yuan, of the films in which they appeared that were released in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

For a film to be counted toward an actor’s total, they must have been billed among the top five leads. If an actor appeared in a film but was not billed among the top five, that film is not counted toward their results. For Hollywood films in which a Chinese actor appeared, only the Chinese box office figure is tallied. Animated films in which an actor voiced a role are counted, including foreign animated films in which the actor provided a Chinese language voice dub (e.g., Deng Chao in Despicable Me 2).

So without further ado, here are the reigning divas of the Chinese film industry:

#1 Fan Bingbing.

female star Fan Bingbing

Chinese Name:  范冰冰
Birthdate:  September 16, 1981
Birthplace: Qingdao, Shandong, China
Education: Shanghai Theater Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 3.41 billion
(USD): 554 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Iron Man 3 (2013), 753 mm RMB

For more than fifteen years since her 1998 hit TV series My Fair Princess, and then her 2003 breakout film role in director Feng Xiaogang’s thriller Cell Phone, Fan Bingbing has been at the top of the PRC’s A-list. Her acting talents have earned her a prestigious Golden Horse Award, a Hundred Flowers Award, a Huading Award, and other recognition, and Forbes China has ranked her as the number 1 Chinese celebrity for the past two years. She is among the first Chinese females to be featured in Hollywood films, with roles in Iron Man 3, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and this coming April’s The Moon and the Sun. Fan is also a successful recording star, a TV producer, and China’s top brand endorsement celebrity.

 

#2 Yang Mi

female star Yang Mi

Chinese name: 杨幂
Birthdate:  September 12, 1986
Birthplace: Beijing, China
Education: Beijing Film Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 3.15 billion
(USD): 512 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), 727 mm RMB

The youngest of the actresses on this list, Yang Mi began acting when her parents enrolled her in classes at the China Children’s Film Studio. At just four years old she appeared as young Princess Xianyi in the TV period drama Tang Ming Huang, and by the age of 6 she was winning national acting awards. In an early film role she played Stephen Chow’s daughter in the Hong Kong martial arts comedy King of Beggars. After a stint as a magazine model she went on to star in several popular TV series, most notably as the time traveling lead character in Palace. Her breakout film role came when she played a quirky demon in the box office smash, Painted Skin: The Resurrection. She reached the #2 spot on this list mainly because she starred in the hugely successful Tiny Times romance franchise, which has spawned three sequels, and in the 2014 rom-com hit The Breakup Guru. She also enjoys the distinction of having starred in one of China’s most successful horror films, Mysterious Island. Together with her new husband, TV star Hawick Lau, she is part of one of China’s most famous celebrity couples.

 

#3 “Fanny” Shu Qi

female star Shu Qi

Chinese name: 林立慧 (Lin Lihui)
Birthdate:  April 16, 1976
Birthplace: New Taipei City, Taiwan
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.79 billion
(USD): 454 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Journey to the West: Conquering the Demon (2013), 1.25 billion RMB

Taiwan born Shu Qi is the unlikeliest of the actresses to appear in this list. The former porn actress and Playboy model somehow managed to earn the forgiveness of China’s puritan censors for having starred in such racy Hong Kong fare as Viva Erotica, Sex and Zen II and several soft core porn films, and went on to a mainstream career both in Chinese and international cinema. She has appeared opposite Jason Statham in The Transporter, she starred in the Hong Kong horror hit The Eye 2, and she won a Golden Horse best actress award for her multiple-character performance in director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times. In addition to Hou she has worked with several of China’s other top directors, including Stephen Fung, Jackie Chan, Jiang Wen, and Feng Xiaogang.

 

#4 Yuan Quan
female star Yuan Quan

Chinese name: 袁泉
Birthdate:  October 16, 1977
Birthplace: Hubei, China
Education: Central Academy of Drama
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.23 billion
(USD): 362 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Breakup Buddies (2014), 1.16 billion RMB

Actress and singer Yuan Quan had a big year in 2014, appearing in China’s highest grossing comedy, Breakup Buddies, and its highest grossing romance, The Continent. After a 7-year education in opera at the Chinese Opera Institute that began when she was 11 years old, she entered the Central Academy of Drama in an illustrious class that included Zhang Ziyi, Mei Ting, and four other actresses who came to be known as the “Seven Golden Flowers.” Her film career started auspiciously in 1999 with the film Spring Rhapsody, for which she won a Golden Rooster Award for best supporting actress. She has since moved successfully between film, television, and music, winning numerous awards including a 2009 Billboard Music Award for Best Album.

 

#5 “Vicky” Zhao Wei
female star Zhao Wei
Chinese name:
Birthdate:  March 12, 1976
Birthplace: Wuhu, Anhui, China
Education: Beijing Film Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.13 billion
(USD): 346 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), 727 mm RMB

Zhao Wei caught the acting bug at 17 when the film Hua Hun starring Gong Li came to her hometown and she was chosen to appear as an extra. Soon after, she quit her job as a kindergarten teacher and headed to Shanghai to enroll in a new film arts academy founded by legendary director Xie Jin, and then at 20 she earned the highest score in the entrance exam to enroll at the Beijing Film Academy. While still a student there she rose to national prominence when she starred—along with Fan Bingbing—in the smash hit TV drama My Fair Princess. For that role she became the youngest actress to win the Golden Eagle Award. She went on to more awards recognition for a string of film appearances, most notably John Woo’s Red Cliff, the epic adventure Warriors of Heaven and Earth and the Painted Skin films. In 2013 she made her directorial debut with the hit romance So Young, which is the fifth highest grossing film in Chinese box office history.

Please look for Part 2 of this series, which will look at China’s leading male stars.

For detailed research reports on China’s movie stars and box office, write us at info@pacificbridgepics.com.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at http://www.pacificbridgepics.com.

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6 thoughts on “A Guide to Recognizing Your Stars Part 1: Chinese Female Leads

    • Zhou Xun was actually 6th among women in total box office, just behind Zhao Wei. Had Li Bingbing been one of the top-billed actors in Transformers 4, she would have placed in the top 10, but that film wasn’t counted for her and in fact she didn’t place in the top 20.

  1. Great information for me, my director associate here in Beijing is placing Yuan Quan as lead actress in a possible Australia China coproduction set in Sydney, the future is bright as investor Sparkle Roll Media is interested. Kepp up the info Rob :]]

  2. I think Li Bingbing should be there too, she made a lot of money in transformers and was billed alongside Stanley Tucci. Fan bingbing wasnt even in the international version of iron man so that’s not her highest grossing movie. And she only appeared in xmen for less than 5 minutes. Yao Chen and zhou xun should also be on the list.

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