Childhood & Early Years
Gong Li was born on 31 December 1965 in Shenyang, China. Her father, Gong Lize, was a professor of economics while her mother, Liu Ying, was a teacher. Born youngest, she has two elder sisters, Gong Wen and Gong Di, and two elder brothers, Gong Zheng and Gong Gu.
From the very childhood, Gong Li was very fond of singing, dancing and acting, excelling in all of them, very often neglecting all other subjects. Her childhood ambition was to become a singer and therefore on graduating from school, she tried to enter a good music school.
After failing to get admission to any of China’s top music school, she turned her attention to acting. Eventually in 1985, she was accepted by the Central Academy of Drama, in Beijing, graduating from there in 1989.
Continue Reading Below
In 1987, while in her second year at Central Academy of Drama, Gong Li began her acting career with ‘Red Sorghum’, directed by Zhang Yimou. Very soon, the two became very close and began to collaborate on number of movies.
In 1989, she graduated from Central Academy of Drama. In the same year, she appeared in three films: as Guilian in ‘The Empress Dowager’, in an uncredited role in ‘Mr. Sunshine’ and as Ah Li in ‘Codename Cougar’. She won her first award for ‘Codename Cougar’.
In 1990, she starred as Winter/Lili Chu in ‘A Terracotta Warrior’, the first film to earn her the Best Actress nomination. In the same year, she also appeared in the title role in ‘Ju Dou’; but the film was not released immediately; it was banned for few years in China.
In 1991, she appeared as Miss Yu-san / Yu-mong in 'God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai’ and as Songlian in ‘Raise the Red Lantern’. The second film, released in Venice in September, put her in the international limelight.
Also in 1991, as a devastating flood killed thousands in China, she joined other actors to make the charity film, ‘The Banquet’, appearing in it in a cameo role. Released on 30 November, the film grossed HK $21.92 million.
In 1992, she once again drew international attention with the title role in ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’, earning three awards for it. Later that year, she also appeared in the title role of Mary (Ma Li) in ‘Mary from Beijing’. These roles established her as an internationally acclaimed star.
She continued to portray meaningful roles and appeared in 'Farewell My Concubine' (1993), 'Flirting Scholar' (1993), 'Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain' (1994), 'A Soul Haunted by Painting' (1994), 'To Live' (1994) and 'The Great Conqueror's Concubine' (1994).
In 1995, she starred in Zhang Yimou’s film ‘Shanghai Triad’, thereafter both of them mutually deciding to part ways. In the remaining years of 1990s, she did only three films, ‘Temptress Moon’ (1996), ‘Chinese Box’ (1997) and ‘The Emperor and the Assassin’ (1998).
In 2000, she once again earned international acclaim for her performance in ‘Breaking the Silence’. It was followed by 'Zhou Yu's Train' in 2002; '2046' and ‘Eros’ in 2004. Meanwhile in 2002, she was invited to head the Venice Film Festival.
In 2005, she appeared in her first Hollywood movie, starring as Hatsumomo in 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. Later in the same decade, she appeared in two other English language films; as Isabella in ‘Miami Vice’ (2006) and as Lady Murasaki Shikibu Lecter in ‘Hannibal Rising’ (2007).
Also in 2006, she once more collaborated with Zhang Yimou, starring in 'Curse of the Golden Flower', reuniting with him once again in 2014 for the film ‘Coming Home’. Two years later, she would appeared in her first action role in ‘The Monkey King 2’.
One of her last films, ‘Saturday Fiction’, was released in 2019 in Venice. Her next film, ‘Mulan’ is scheduled to be released in March 2020. She is presently working in ‘Ana’, scheduled to be released in 2022.
Family & Personal Life
On 15 February 1996, Gong Li married Singaporean tobacco tycoon Ooi Hoe Seong and moved to Singapore. In 2008, she gave up her Chinese citizenship to become a Singaporean citizen. The couple divorced on 28 June 2010.
In 2019, Gong married seventy years old French composer, Jean-Michel Jarre.
From 1987 to 1996, she had a close personal relationship with Chinese director, Zhang Yimou.