Chen, Joan


Chen, Joan
(née Chen Chong)
b. 1961, Shanghai
Actress, film director
In her debut, Youth (Qingchun, 1977), Chen Chong plays Yamei, a teenager who overcomes difficulty to become a Party member. Director Xie Jin picked Chen because of her expressive eyes (Yamei is mute). As the eponymous heroine of Little Flower (Xiaohua, 1979), Chen charmed fans and won China’s best actress award. She moved to the US in 1981. She played May-May in Tai-Pan (1986), Empress Wan Jung (Wanrong) in The Last Emperor (1987), and femme fatale Josie Packard in Twin Peaks (1990). As an Asian, Chen has had limited opportunity in Hollywood (she plays an Eskimo in a Stephen Segal film), but she has succeeded (she has directed Richard Gere).
Chen’s looks and distinctive pose—head titled, eyes dreamy, full lips smiling faintly—have made her popular. In early films, Chen is demure; in later work, she is alluring; but whether as the wholesome Zhao Xiaohua in Little Flower or the adulterous Wang Jiaorui in Red Rose, White Rose (Hongmeigui baimeigui, 1994), Chen accepts the audience’s gaze. Chen’s intriguing, opaque screen persona is typified by her character in Temptation of a Monk (Youseng, 1993), a sweet, flirtatious princess whose alter-ego is a seductress-assassin.
Chen won Taiwan’s Golden Horse for her first film as director, The Sent-Down Girl (Tianyu or Xiu Xiu, 1998), about a girl sent to Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. The refracted outline of Chen’s career emerges in her direction of sixteen-year-old Lu Lu, who as Xiu Xiu goes from chaste naiveté to resigned promiscuity with jarring rapidity and explicitness. Xiu Xiu’s misfortune is to become a sexual object, but the film uses sex to sell us her story.
THOMAS MORAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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