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10 Questions with Ni Ni, the rising Chinese star of Zhang Yimou's THE FLOWERS OF WAR!

By InCinemas  /  30 Mar 2012 (Friday)

For Ni Ni (倪妮), making Zhang Yimou’s (张艺谋) THE FLOWERS OF WAR《金陵十三钗》was a remarkably personal experience, for she grew up in the city of Nanking, where the action takes place. 

[Image of Ni Ni in The Flowers of War]

Set during the Rape of Nanking in 1937, when Japanese soldiers invaded the Chinese city, Ni Ni plays Yu Mo (玉墨), one of a group of prostitutes that take shelter in a war-torn cathedral – already populated by a group of schoolgirls and an American drifter (Christian Bale). 

Ni Ni – a former student at the Nanjing Broadcasting Institute, who makes her screen debut here – describes the arduous audition process, and why she’s not a “show-off”.

Q1: It’s a massive film to start your career with. Did it feel enormous making it?

Ni Ni: Yeah. It’s my first movie and the director is one the most famous directors in China – maybe all around the world! And the main actor is Christian Bale, and he’s my idol! He’s very charming. I feel like the luckiest girl. Of course, I feel so much stress and pressure because I don’t want to let them down. The director spent a lot of money and time on me, because I had training, and I don’t want that to be wasted. 

Q2: Was it a very long process to get the role?

Ni Ni: It almost took two years. It was very tough. My background is not an acting background. I’m like a blank piece of paper – totally new in this area! My major is broadcasting – it’s totally different. To be an actor, you have to be very sensitive. But to be a host, you have to be very objective. So it’s hard when you play a role to trust yourself, that you are this character. It took a long time. 

Q3: Were you presenting a TV programme beforehand?

Ni Ni: No, I was just a student in broadcasting. I was very lucky! It used to be my hobby. Actually, I’m not a show-off girl. I’m afraid of standing in front of people; I feel very nervous. My mind goes blank and I don’t know what to say.

Q4: So how was it on set, standing in front of all these people?

Ni Ni: I have to. It’s my job! It’s very natural. You’re not alone – you have the director and Christian Bale, so many colleagues together. We give each other energy. Sometimes, we’d watch TV together, though sometimes after shooting we were all exhausted. I had a single room, but the other girls shared. I don’t think that made me different. But it was because I had to put more focus on my character. It’s a very important character in the movie. And I needed some isolation time. 

[Image of Zhang Yimou and Christian Bale on the set of The Flowers of War]

Q5: How was it to watch Zhang Yimou direct?

Ni Ni: I think he’s very hard working, and very strict and serious. But this movie is very special. We have so many new actors and actresses in this movie. Most of them, it’s their first movie. So working with these kind of actors is really hard for a director. He’s not only in charge of the actors, but also in charge of the lights and the sounds and the cameras. He stayed in control – like a God! He was always very nice to us, very patient, and he never pushed us. He provides his love and had a great temperament.

(Read InCinemas Review of The Flowers of War - by Eternality Tan)

Q6: Did you know much about this period of history before?

Ni Ni: Of course, because when we were children, in our school we would learn about the history of this massacre. It’s very important. I am a native from Nanking. So this massacre happened in my city. I went to the memorial monument several times. I know this history is very cruel, but I think this movie is not about that history. I think the key for the director, he doesn’t want to show how cruel that history was. He just wanted to show how peace is important to human beings. And I think this movie is not about killing. It’s about peace, love and humanity. So we have different angles to watch a movie, right? So here we just want to build a bright future together.

Q7: Did you grow up watching movies a lot?

Ni Ni: Yes, I love movies. Movies make my life more colourful. It’s more productive! I could learn a lot of things from movies. Like the movie The Help. I cried for one hour after the movie! I’m sensitive! But this movie is really good, and the actors are brilliant. 

Q8: Did you ask Christian Bale for any advice?

Ni Ni: He just told me: be yourself. And when you start shooting, put all yourself in this role and just let things happen naturally. 

Q9: How was it to be surrounded by the explosions etc?

Ni Ni: Actually, we were not participating in those war scenes. But those scenes when the soldiers come in and attack the children were very scary. They make me very angry. When I see the children cry, I can’t stand it. They’re so small and so weak, and don’t have the power against them. So that’s how I felt.

[View the trailer for The Flowers of War below!]

Q10: Was it generally an emotionally difficult project?

Ni Ni: Yes, it’s a very sad story. But it was easy – the point was to trust the director. He gave me a lot of suggestions, though it’s not his way to tell the actor how to act. We just tried to build the characters by ourselves. He let us first off build our characters. If they’re wrong, he would give the actors a lot of suggestions, and tell them what way is correct. 

THE FLOWERS OF WAR is rated NC16 (Violence and Sexual Violence) and opens InCinemas 29 March 2012.

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