People Staff
March 12, 2001 12:00 PM

The first time Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee met with Chinese acting student Zhang Ziyi, he was, he admits, underwhelmed. “When you see her in person,” says Lee—whose tale of love, honor, betrayal and butt-kicking is up for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture—”it’s really hard to tell that she has charisma.” Thank heaven for second impressions. In her role as the daughter of an 18th-century aristocrat who moonlights as a fearsome martial arts master, Ziyi, 22, kicks, flips, flies, chops and sword-fights her way past what Lee calls her “little girl exterior.” Years of studying dance at home in Beijing helped give her, she says, “the ability to imitate martial arts fighting.” But offscreen, says Brett Ratner, now directing her in Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour 2 in Las Vegas, she is less dragon than “bunny rabbit—she likes to jump around and get giddy.” And why not? Since quitting Beijing’s China Central Drama College in 1999, she has gone from sharing a dorm room with five roommates to having her own apartment. But for the second child of Zhang Yuan Xiao, 52, a government economist, and Li Zhou Sheng, 52, a kindergarten teacher, privacy isn’t the only star perk. Best of all is one-upping her pop: “When I was a kid, he would bring me to his office and everyone would say, ‘Oh, you must be Chief Zhang’s daughter.’ Now, she adds with a laugh, “everyone says to him, ‘Oh, this is Zhang Ziyi’s father!’ ”

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