Zhang Ziyi, the newcomer who stole the plaudits as rebellious princess Jiao Long Yu (Jen) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo Hu Zang Long), is to star in Wong Kar-Wai's forthcoming 2046.
Zhang currently on set in Hong Kong with New Line's Jackie Chan film Rush Hour 2, this week revealed that she had signed for 2046. Producers were unable to confirm more than a very strong intention and could not say whether contractual terms had been finalised.
The film, a look at Hong Kong life 50 years after the British handover of the territory to China, is being prepared under Wong's usual cloak of artistic secrecy and is expected to shoot later this summer. Historically that has meant cast changes.
Currently expected to star are Tony Leung, star of Wong's recent smash In The Mood For Love, Karina Lam, May Wong , Japanese pop star Kimura and Thai singing star Bird.
The role confirms Zhang as a talent coveted by the art-house scene as well as the action circuit. A dancer, who made her screen debut in Zhang Yimou's The Road Home (Wo De Fu Qin Mu Qin), she has since made two big-budget martial arts films which have yet to be released.
She stars opposite Sammo Hung and Woo Sung Jung in Warriors (Moosah), a Korean-financed $6m period romance made in China with much of the technical crew from Crouching Tiger. The Alan Lan-directed film is sold by CJ Entertainment and is expected to premiere in May. And she stars with Ekin Cheung and Cecilia Cheung in The Legend Of Zu, a picture by legendary action director Tsui Hark that is sold by Hong Kong's China Star Entertainment and Los Angeles-based Summit Entertainment.
"There's no doubt that she will soon be a big Gong," said Wouter Barendrecht, Fortissimo Film Sales head, who is handling international sales on 2046. The comment is a reference to Zhang's meteoric rise to international stardom and her "Little Gong" nickname, which is a backhanded reference to superstar Chinese actress Gong Li.
USA Films, which bought In The Mood For Love, is understood to have first refusal on US rights to 2046.