Monday, July 23, 2018

Tang Wei

Tang Wei, Toronto, Sept. 7, 2007

I DIDN'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT TANG WEI WHEN I PHOTOGRAPHED HER at the 2007 film festival. She was having a fairy tale screen debut - a leading role opposite movie star Tony Leung in a film directed by Ang Lee. Tiny and very pretty, with a very intelligent face, she seemed like she had lucked out big time, whether her career was going to be in China or Hollywood.

What happened next, however, was a very Chinese story. Her sex scenes with Tony Leung in Lust, Caution had a fervor that has made people speculate to this day about whether they were acting or not. It was too much for the Chinese government and the film was banned by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. Tang was dropped from subsequent roles and didn't appear in another film in China for three years.

She was rumoured to be taking classes at university in England, and went to Korea to make her next film, Late Autumn. Her presumed rehabilitation with a role in a film about the founding of the Chinese communist party ended up in the cutting room floor when she was apparently edited out at the request of Mao Tse-Tung's grandson. By 2014, however, she was starring alongside Chris Hemsworth and Viola Davis in Blackhat, her first major Hollywood film.

Tang Wei, Toronto, Sept. 7, 2007

I was pretty sure I took these shots within an hour of the portraits I'd taken of Tony Leung and Ang Lee, and a glance at the exif files proves my hunch right. It was the middle of the afternoon, so there was just enough light coming through the windows of the Intercontinental to illuminate Tang but keep the room in darkness. Much as the bright, flat light and off-white walls of the Four Seasons around the corner set the style for my earlier work at the free daily, the dark, earth-tone walls and scant light of the Intercontinental changed the way my last two or three years worth of portraits looked.

It would have been better, of course, if I'd known a little bit more about Tang Wei when I photographed her, but I would have had to understand Mandarin and watch a lot of Chinese television (or have been clairvoyant) to manage that. In hindsight, though, her subsequent career travails in her homeland might give these shots a hint of editorial context that I obviously didn't plan.

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