4 of Gong Li’s most memorable movies – from ‘Farewell My Concubine’ to ‘Mulan’

As the renowned Chinese beauty celebrates her 55th birthday on New Year’s Eve, we look back at Gong Li’s most memorable roles – from Disney’s live-action Mulan remake to celebrated Asian cinema classics.

Gong Li, who turns 55 on December 31, 2019, plays Empress Phoenix in 2006 movie Curse of the Golden Flower. (Photo credit: Douban)

Gong Li, born in the Chinese province of Liaoning and later making her home in Singapore, is one of China’s most famous movie stars. Often hailed as an ageless beauty, the actress is turning 55 years old on New Year’s Eve – can you believe it?

Looking forever charismatic and formidable, she was elected the most beautiful woman in China in 2006. Since appearing in Red Sorghum, by Zhang Yimou, in 1987, Gong has gone on to master numerous roles in Chinese cinematic classics. Here are some of her most memorable films, in light of her 55th birthday.

Farewell My Concubine

​​In the 1993 Peking opera film directed by Chen Kaige, Gong was on set with lead actors Zhang Fengyi and Leslie Cheung. She portrayed Juxian, a principal prostitute of Huamanlou, who is entangled in a three-way relationship with her husband and his male friend Douzi, played by Zhang and Cheung respectively. Although not a leading role, Gong portrayed the distraught but beautiful character incisively and vividly, charmingly enriching this cinematic classic.​


In the yet-to-come 2020 Disney release, Gong will play the powerful witch and villain Xian Lang, a fictional role added for the film adaptation. In contrast with Liu Yifei’s benign and heroine figure Mulan, Gong’s role is much more veracious yet with a rich character – for which she trained in kung fu for two months in readiness for the role. Gong commented during an interview, “we can’t make movies like making fast food, [we] need to really respect and savour them.”

Raise the Red Lantern

The film was directed by Gong’s long-term collaborator Zhang Yimou, and is often referred to as his peak project despite its early appearance on his CV.

It was set in the polygamous Minguo period of China, with Gong’s role as the young Song Lian, who unwillingly became the fourth wife of landlord Chen.

Led by Zhang’s fascinating storytelling and beautiful picture composition, along with Gong’s lively performance, the project achieved the highest box office of any Chinese movie in North America at its time, and saw Zhang honoured with the Silver Lion prize at the 48th Venice Film Festival.

Flirting Scholar

In the ancient China-set comedy Flirting Scholar, staring Stephen Chow as China’s noted Casanova Tang Bohu, Gong played Qiu Xiang, one of the four beautiful maidservants that Tang fell in love with. The 1993 Hong Kong movie became one of the most repeatedly screened classics, amusing multiple generations.

Other honourable mentions in Gong’s glittering filmography include Ju Dou, Curse of the Golden Flower, martial arts fiction Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain and her notable ventures into Hollywood – Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice.


– This article originally appeared on SCMP – Style Magazine.