Zhang Ziyi stars in novice director's 'Revenge'

'Geisha' actress takes first comic turn as scorned cartoonist

BEIJING -- In Zhang Ziyi's latest role in "Sophie's Revenge," which premiered Sunday in Beijing, she plays a character that bears a resemblance to the film's novice writer-director, Jin Yimeng.

Both are cartoonists in their late 20s or early 30s. Both live in modern, urban China. Both dress fashionably. Both have active imaginations. The similarities might end there, but Jin said her film is a "chick flick" she hopes will tap into truths fast becoming universal in China.

"Chinese women are looking at the world now: We like to watch everything, we like to shop and we like to gossip," said Jin, a published cartoonist whose simple black-and-white line drawings bring Sophie's imagination to life in the film, in combination with Zhang's live-action performance -- "kind of like Ally McBeal."

The film, about a scorned woman getting back at her ex, also was made with "French Kiss" and "Addicted to Love" in mind, according to Jin.

A native of Harbin in frigid northeast China and a graduate of Florida State University's film school, Jin custom-color-designed the film to be "warm" like "Amelie," she said. But "Sophie's" also includes product placement by Mercedes, Armani and Tiffany.

"I hope Chinese women will drag their boyfriends to see it," she said over scrambled eggs at a French-run cafe. "It's a definitely a date movie since no Chinese woman would pay for herself!"

Jin, a Beijing resident represented by CAA's office here, might be set to ride Zhang's coattails to stardom -- or, depending on one's perspective, Zhang might be on the cusp of being cast in a new light in China.

The romantic comedy is a change of pace for Zhang after playing a Japanese escort in "Memoirs of a Geisha," an empress in "The Banquet" and a friend of Peking Opera legend Mei Lanfang in "Forever Enthralled."

"It's a commercial, Hollywood-style film with a European accent and a Chinese star set in China," Jin said. "Zhang was really great to work with. She's throwing her all into this movie."

When the credits roll, Jin and Zhang will appear as producers with Zhang's longtime manager, Ling Lucas, and Beaver Kwei.

According to Jin, when an executive at the Hong Kong office of Kwei's former employer, Warner China Film Hengdian Group, found her script in winter 2007, they called her asking: "Where have you been hiding? We're looking for scripts like this for women."

When Warner's production in China slowed with the departure of key executives, Beijing-based online-gaming company Perfect World stepped in with an investment to make up the film's 50 million yuan ($7.4 million) budget.

"Sophie's" is a co-production with South Korean powerhouse CJ Entertainment. Sound and effects help also came from South Korea through Seoul-based postproduction houses Blue Cap and HFR.

Jin said state-run studio China Film Group will release "Sophie's" on Friday on more than 1,000 screens nationwide, in cooperation with Hong Kong-based hitmaking producer Bill Kong's Edko Pictures.

Jin's first film, a low-budget thriller that grew out of her school days in Florida and then living in Los Angeles for four years, will be released after "Sophie's," she said. Next up, Jin is thinking about writing a bilingual comedy along the lines of "Meet the Parents."