While studying at the Beijing Film Academy, Zhao rose to national and regional prominence overnight for her role as Xiao Yanzi ("Little Swallow") in the hit TV series My Fair Princess (1998–1999), for which she also won Golden Eagle Award for Best Actress. My Fair Princess enjoyed unprecedented success in East and Southeast countries, and Zhao is regarded by many as Mainland China's first "national idol" since the economic reform began in 1978.
Over her 20 years acting career, Zhao has starred in many box-office smash-hits, including Shaolin Soccer (2001), Red Cliff (2008-2009), Painted Skin (2008), Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), Dearest (2014) and Lost in Hong Kong (2015). She has received numerous awards from the Shanghai International Film Festival, Huabiao Awards, Changchun Film Festival, Hundred Flowers Awards and Shanghai Film Critics Awards for films like A Time to Love (2005) and Mulan (2009). In 2014, after almost 2-year break from acting, she returned to the silver screen in Peter Chan's movie Dearest, and won the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award and Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress.
While focusing mostly on films, her works also include highly-popular TV series such as Romance in the Rain (2001), Moment in Peking (2005) and Tiger Mom (2015). She also began a singing career with her debut album Swallow (1999), and has since released 7 albums. In 2006, she won the MTV Asia Award for Favorite Artist from Mainland China, for her album Double.
Zhao received her master's degree of Film Directing from Beijing Film Academy in 2012. Her directorial debut So Young (2013) was both a huge box office and critical success. It broke the box office record for movies directed by female Chinese directors in just a week, and eventually became one of the highest-grossing films ever in China. The movie also earned her multiple awards in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, including Golden Rooster Award for Best Directorial Debut, Hundred Flowers Award for Best Director and Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film from Mainland and Taiwan.
In 2016, Zhao was named as member of the main Jury at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.
Born and brought up in Wuhu, Anhui, Zhao is the second child to Zhao Jiahai (Chinese: 赵家海; pinyin: Zhào Jiāhǎi), an engineer, and Wei Qiying (Chinese: 魏启颖; pinyin: Wèi Qǐyǐng), a primary school teacher, She has an elder brother Zhao Jian (Chinese: 赵健; pinyin: Zhào Jiān; born 1971). After secondary school, Zhao entered Wuhu Normal School, a local education institution training students to become pre-school teachers. Apart from school, she also received training in piano, dance, and Chinese ink wash painting.
In 1993, while Zhao was still in school, the movie A Soul Haunted by Painting (1994), directed by Huang Shuqin, starring Gong Li and Derek Yee, was filming in Wuhu. Zhao was cast for a cameo role, a young prostitute in the brothel where Gong's character works. This is her first acting experience though she only appeared briefly at the beginning of the film and had no dialogues.
Zhao had developed strong interests in acting after her first acting experience, and decided to become an actress. In 1994, after graduating from the Wuhu Normal School, she gave up her job as an apprentice pre-school teacher. She moved from her hometown to Shanghai and was enrolled in Xie Jin Star Academy, an acting school founded by the legendary Chinese director Xie Jin, where she received structured acting training during 1994 - 1995. She was also selected by Xie to star his movie Penitentiary Angel (1996). This was her first substantial role. Though she did not find her own performance fulfilling, Zhao considered it a valuable experience and a good start of her career. The film landed her other roles in TV series including her first leading role in Sisters in Beijing (1996). "I was too young to understand the role," she said, "but if you've been cast in a film by a famous director, no matter how well you did, other less-famous directors will also want to cast you."
In 1996, Zhao was admitted to the School of Performing Arts, Beijing Film Academy (BFA) with the highest score national-wide. She graduated 4 years later with Bachelor Degree of Performing Arts from BFA as one of the most outstanding graduates - Zhao scored five "A"s and nine "A-"s out of the 14 courses. Her graduation thesis scored 90 (out of 100).
In 1997, renowned novelist and producer Chiung Yao was casting for the TV series My Fair Princess, a joint production by mainland China and Taiwan which was adapted from Chiung Yao's own novel. She identified Zhao Wei as a talent after watching Sisters in Beijing and offered Zhao the title role of Huan Zhu Ge Ge (Princess Pearl) a.k.a. Xiao Yanzi ("Little Swallow"), a rebellious and funny princess who dared to challenge authority and rules in the Palace. Filming the series was an arduous task for Zhao and her co-stars; Zhao herself acknowledged the intensity of filming:
We shot 18 to 20 hours a day. There were two groups of actors. One shot during the day, one at night. Frequently I'd have to do both. A few times I worked so hard that I actually threw up from the exertion. But I was young then. I didn't get tired easily. And I never complained about the working conditions. I thought that's just how it was supposed to be. Now I know that's wrong. But at the time I had no clue. Whatever they'd give me, I'd do. And as soon as I was done working I could just fall asleep. They'd say, 'Go to sleep,' and I'd go right to sleep.
The hard work of the cast yielded unexpected results. This comedic period drama quickly became a phenomenal sensation and swept TV ratings in Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Vietnam. Zhao rose to prominence and became a household name overnight. In 1999, she became the youngest actress to win the Golden Eagle Award for Best Actress. She was regarded by many as mainland China's first "national idol", and was named one of Taiwan's "Top Ten Most Outstanding Individuals in Television Industry". She is also regarded as one of China's Four Dan Actresses. However, alongside the phenomenal success were increasingly negative critics in mainland China, attacking the rebellious role as a "bad influence" over children and youngsters. During Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference 2002, a member of the CPPCC submit a proposal to calling to boycott the "little swallow". Zhao once again worked with Chiung Yao for the 2001 television series Romance in the Rain, a costume drama based in the 1930s and 1940s. Opposite to the funny princess she played in My Fair Princess, Zhao played a vengeful girl who tried to exact revenge against her parents. The series was a commercial success, and recorded the highest ratings of the year.
Zhao soon felt that she had achieved all she could in television and began to shift her career focus from TV to films.
Zhao went on to star a few Hong Kong movies. In 2001, she starred in the comedy film Shaolin Soccer alongside Hong Kong actor and director Stephen Chow. Zhao played an ugly-duckling steamed bun-maker-cum-taichi-master, a great contrast from the glamorous image she had established for herself in previous roles. Zhao was nominated at the Chinese Film Media Award for Best Actress. This was followed up by a supporting role in Chinese Odyssey 2002 as "Phoenix", for which she nominated Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2002, Zhao played an assassin in So Close, which also stars Shu Qi and Karen Mok.
In 2003, Zhao starred in four films: My Dream Girl, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, Green Tea, and Jade Goddess of Mercy. After much speculation over who was cast for the female lead An Xin in Ann Hui's film Jade Goddess of Mercy, the role was finally offered to Zhao, and her performance was well received by critics. In 2004, the Chinese Association of Film Performing Arts presented her the Golden Phoenix Award for this role. She was also nominated at the 27th Hundred Flowers Award for Best Actress for her performance in Warriors of Heaven and Earth.
In 2004, Zhao was cast to dub the character Princess Fiona when Shrek 2 was released in China.
The year 2005 proved to be another successful year for Zhao. She won the Golden Goblet Award for Best Actress at the Shanghai International Film Festival and tied with Zhang Ziyi for the Huabiao Award. Both awards were for her performance in A Time to Love. Zhao once again won Best Actress for the film at the 8th Changchun Film Festival in 2006.
After a four-year break from television series, Zhao starred as Yao Mulan in a remake of Lin Yutang's Moment in Peking (2005). The television series became Zhao's fourth TV drama (after My Fair Princess, My Fair Princess 2 and Romance in the Rain) to become the highest rated drama of the year. Zhao was nominated at the 26th Flying Apsaras Awards for Outstanding Actress.
Following the success of Moment in Peking, Zhao starred in The Postmodern Life of My Aunt, which premiered at film festivals around the world, including the Toronto International Film Festival. Though Zhao only appeared ten minutes in the film, her performance led her to be nominated at the 43rd Golden Horse Awards and the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Supporting Actress.
In 2006, Zhao made a surprising move by sitting for the national entrance exam for postgraduate studies. After passing with flying colours, Zhao returned to her alma mater, the Beijing Film Academy (BFA) in September 2006 as a postgraduate student in the Department of Film Directing, where she studied under director Tian Zhuangzhuang. That year, Zhao was ranked No.4 on Forbes' 2006 China Celebrity 100 list. She was also selected as the "Most Beautiful Woman" in China through a national voting by Sina.com & Sohu.com's users. People magazine also listed Zhao as "100 Most Beautiful People" in 2006.
Zhao then portrayed a cabby in the 2007 film The Longest Night in Shanghai, starring alongside Masahiro Motoki and Dylan Kuo. The same year, Zhao starred in the television series Thank You For Having Loved Me. She reportedly received a salary of 100,000 yuan per episode.
From 2008 to 2009, Zhao starred in John Woo's historical epic Red Cliff. Set in the Three Kingdoms period, the film was mainland China's most expensive production then. She played Sun Shangxiang, the independent-minded sister of warlord Sun Quan, who disguises herself as a male enemy soldier to gather intelligence. Zhao received two nominations at the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Supporting Actress.
She next appeared in Gordon Chan's horror-adventure film Painted Skin (2008). The film set a new milestone in Chinese film by grossing 100 million yuan in six days. Zhao's role as a general's wife was particularly acclaimed, and she received Best Actress nominations at the 27th Golden Rooster Award and 3rd Asian Film Award.
In 2009, Zhao played the legendary character Hua Mulan in Jingle Ma's Mulan. Jingle Ma called Zhao the "perfect fit" for the cross-dressing heroine. Zhao won the Best Actress Award at the 10th Changchun Film Festival, 30th Hundred Flowers Awards and 19th Shanghai Film Critics Awards for her performance in the film.
On 6 August 2009, she was elected vice-president of China Film Performance Art Academy and executive member of the council of the China Environmental Society.
After filming the wuxia film 14 Blades alongside Donnie Yen, Zhao took a 2-year break from acting in the middle of 2010. On 11 April 2010, she gave birth to a girl, Huang Xin, the only child of her and businessman Huang Youlong, whom she married in 2008.
In June 2010, she returned to limelight as a jury member of the 13th Shanghai International Film Festival.
Zhao returned from her extended parental leave in 2012, playing, incidentally, a single mother in Love, directed by Doze Niu. The film also achieved commercial success, and became the only film to gross 100 million yuan in both Taiwan and mainland China. Critics call the solo performance of Zhao Wei as "the most amazing scene". The same year she starred in Painted Skin: The Resurrection, the sequel to the 2008 film Painted Skin. The film grossed over 700 million yuan to become the highest grossing Chinese film then, before being beaten by Lost in Thailand.
In 2012, she graduated from the directing institute of Beijing Film Academy, with an MFA dissertation defense score of 99/100, ranking #1 out of all the graduates.
Her directorial debut, So Young, opened on 26 April 2013 to 141 million yuan in its first weekend. She was the first female director whose debut film broke 100 million yuan in China. In just one week, So Young garnered 350 million yuan, with the final box office record in China being over 700 million yuan. For the film, Zhao won the Golden Rooster Award for Best Directorial Debut, Hundred Flowers Award for Best Director and Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film from Mainland and Taiwan.
Zhao also became a judge for the 5th season of China's Got Talent alongside Liu Ye, Alec Su and Wang Wei Chun.
Zhao returned to acting in 2014, playing a countrywoman in the film Dearest, directed by Peter Chan. The movie was selected by the 71st Venice International Film Festival in the Out-of-competition category, and Zhao's performance as a foster mother of illegally kidnapped children received international acclaim. The Hollywood Reporter called her Chinese Juliette Binoche. This movie also earned Zhao the Hong Kong Film Award and Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress.
In 2015, she starred in comedies Hollywood Adventures and Lost in Hong Kong, both of which were commercially successful. The same year, Zhao made her return to television in Tiger Mom. She was nominated at the Asian Television Award and Magnolia Award for Best Actress. On October 20, Zhao elected as executive member of Executive Committee of China Film Directors' Guild.
In 2016, Zhao played a doctor in Johnnie To's crime thriller film Three. She also began the production for her second directorial work No Other Love. In July, she was named as a member of the main competition jury for the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.
In February 2017, Zhao went back to her alma mater - School of Performing Arts, Beijing Film Academy - to be the finale round examiner/assessor of applicants for the 2017 intake. The entrance exam is said to be the most challenging one of students pursuing performing arts whereby the success ratio is 1:113.
Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming publicly acknowledged that he had crush over Zhao Wei when he and she both attended the Beijing Film Academy. Zhao rejected his courtship because she felt he was not mature enough. The two remain as close friends and have collaborated in the movie Hollywood Adventures, a joint Hollywood-Chinese production.
After two known relationships, Zhao Wei married Chinese businessman Huang Youlong in 2008 in Singapore. The couple's daughter, was born in April 2010.
Zhao is a well-known wine lover and has a passion for winemaking. On 21 December 2011, French newspaper Sud-Ouest reported that Zhao had bought Château Monlot, a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, at 4 million euro. On september 16, 2012, Zhao Wei is admitted into the Jurade de Saint-Émilion. After 4 years of work, in October 2015, the winery launched the Bordeaux wine brand in the Chinese mass market. The online shop offers both high end and affordable wine selections.
Zhao has been actively involved in charity and disaster relief work. Her notable charity work and donations include:In 1999, Zhao Wei donated 100,000 yuan, for Taiwan 921 earthquake.
In 2004, with the local education authority, she set up a scholarship and study grant fund in Wuhu, her hometown. for students from families in financial difficulties.
In 2005, she was appointed as a spokesperson and ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund and China Youth Concern Committee's "Awareness for Children Affected by AIDS" campaign; she also performed the song "来得及的明天" (pinyin: lái dé jí dè míng tiān; literally: "Still Time for Tomorrow") as the theme song for the campaign.
In 2006, Zhao supported the fundraising events for the Smile Angel Foundation, a charity fund set up by Zhao's friend, pop diva Faye Wong, for children with clefts.
The morning following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Zhao was at Cannes to promote her film Red Cliff and she donated 100,000 yuan to the China Red Cross. Soon afterward, she donated 500,000 yuan to the China Children and Teenagers' Fund to construct a Spring Bude Building School.
On 29 March 2010, Zhao donated 200,000 RMB to the Yunnan government, as Yunnan was suffering from the worst drought during the past few decades. On 17 April, the third day after Qinghai Yushu Earthquake, Zhao donated 200,000 yuan to the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.
Zhao received the China Charity Billboard Award for her contributions to charity in 2011.
On 22 April 2013, Zhao donated 500,000 RMB to the Sichuan Yaan Earthquake.
In 2014, Zhao Wei launched the V-Love Foundation for Childhood leukemia. Also in 2014, Zhao Wei was named ambassador for Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
In June 2016, Zhao donated 1 million RMB to the Anhui government, as Anhui was suffering from the worst flooding during the past decade. The same year, Zhao was appointed amabassador for China Soong Ching Ling Foundation and UNDP's "Ethnic Minority Women Empowerment and Development Project", aimed to promote sustainable human development with ethnic minority women through joint collaborations in social and economic development. She was also named the ambassador by Chinese Ministry of Public Security for Anti Child-trafficking campaign. On November 20, UNDP appointed her as goodwill ambassador. On December 26, Zhao held a charity party for her V-Love Foundation and raised donations more than 16 million yuan for Childhood leukemia.
In July 2017, Zhao and her husband donated 1 million HKD to the Hunan government, as Hunan was suffering from the flooding.
As the price of her fame, Zhao has been a regular subject of tabloids. In 2001, Zhao did a group of photos for the August issue of fashion magazine L'Offciel China. In one photo, Zhao was wearing a designer dress (Heatherette NYC label, designed by Richie Rich). The dress assembled a pattern similar to the Japanese military flag during the WWII. Four months later, in Dec 2001, one of the local evening newspaper started to question and criticize the photo. Still torn by Japan's crimes to China during the WWII, the newspaper quickly provoked a public outcry, and more media joined to attack Zhao. Some called to ban her work and prohibit her from show business. On 9 December, the newspaper Beijing Evening News and network Sina.com published Zhao's apology letter to the nation. On 17 December, Zhao again apologized on the television show Entertainment Live; the apology was broadcast on 200 television networks and 100 radio stations in China.
Different opinions and questions started to surface over the magazine editors' negligence and choice of dress. There were also suspicions that the incident was a set-up to ruin Zhao's career. On 28 December 2001, during her performance at a concert, Zhao was attacked on stage by Fu Shenghua, a construction worker who later said his grandparents were killed during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Reflecting upon his actions, Fu told a Chinese magazine: "I know what I did wasn't right. But I believe my cause was just... As a famous Chinese person, she should have been aware of such an important event in Chinese history." Later, a Chinese newspaper, Beijing Youth Daily published a special report after a two-month investigation and alleged that Fu had lied to the media, claiming that no one in his family had died during the war and that he was not a construction worker but instead had been unemployed for several years. The journalist noted that it was difficult to have conversations with Fu due to his alleged extremist views. More and more people started to believe that the incident was a set-up and the public views started shifting more empathetically towards Zhao. After this report was published, the hype surrounding the incident died down and the Chinese media seldom mentioned it again.
In July 2004, Zhao was embroiled in further controversy when a pregnant lady named Zou Xue accused Zhao of assaulting her in a restaurant over a business dispute. Zhao and Zou had been business partners, and opened a bar together in Beijing. Zou claimed that Zhao had instructed her chauffeur to hit Zou after a business dispute. Zou filed a lawsuit demanding compensation as well as a public apology. Zhao denied hitting Zou, but the public were not on Zhao's side. However, the incident quickly had a dramatic twist when the media investigated that Zou's medical check-up report was fake, and was produced by a hospital managed by her family members. The court then rejected Zou's lawsuit against Zhao. In addition, people found that Zou was the L'Offciel editor who stepped down due to the "Japanese flag" incident. The public was more convinced that the "Japanese flag" incident was a set-up and Zou was somehow involved. Zhao regained the public's support.
Zhao completed her second directorial feature No Other Love in June 2016. On July 1, 2016, the Communist Youth League used its own website and social media to criticize Zhao over the male cast and Taiwanese director-actor Leon Dai's alleged support for Taiwanese independence. It posting on Weibo called for boycott of this movie. Following the call, China's nationalists and nationalist unions started to attack Zhao for being a "public enemy" and "traitor" to the nation. The nationalists also branded Zhao as an "American spy", citing Zhao had taken a photo and shaken hands with Hillary Clinton at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Future Summit in Manhattan, US on November 20, 2014. In early July, both Dai and Zhao and their movie production studios issued apology statements but the nationalists continued to attack them, even against Zhao's family members including her husband, daughter and brother. On 15 July 2016, under fierce online assault, Zhao apologized, and the movie studio also announced its plan to replace Dai. The incident generated much debate online, and some famous Chinese writers, professors and filmmakers, including Fang Fang, Sai Ren, Shi Hang, Yan Feng, He Ping, Chen Guoxing, along with People's Daily's social media and China Newsweek (present by China News Service) categorically denounced the online abuse and/or voiced their support for Zhao.
Alongside her acting career, Zhao has become actively involved in commercial work. In 2001, she was selected as one of "China's Top Ten Most Popular Commercial Models", the culmination of her work for Red Earth and Amoisonic Mobile Phone. The same year, Zhao was ranked second on "China's Top 10 Artists for Advertisements" list. South Korean television network KBS ranked Zhao number one in China and Japan and number two in South Korea, crowning her "Commercial Queen in 3 countries."
On several occasions, Zhao has been praised by the media for her sense of style. At the Lycra Channel Young Awards (now known as the China Fashion Awards), Zhao was chosen as the "Most Stylish Actress" in mainland China. The same year, MTV China also selected Zhao as the "Most Stylish Asian Actress". Zhao also garnered another fashion award at the 2004 Pierre Cardin Awards. Zhao was awarded the "Most Stylish Female Artist" and "Most Stylish Actor" at the China Fashion Award (CFA) in 2005. In 2007, Zhao won her the third "Most Stylish Actor" in China Fashion Awards. The same year, she won "Most Stylish Female Artist" at the MTV China Style Gala.
As of 18 April 2011, Zhao is climbing up the ranks of the most followed microbloggers worldwide. Her fan count has exceeded six million, bringing her ever-closer to American celebrities Ellen DeGeneres, Ashton Kutcher and Katy Perry, all of whom also recently surpassed the six million fan mark.
Wei and her husband purchased stakes in Alibaba Pictures in 2014, leading to tens of millions of dollars in gains over the next two years. Near the end of 2016, her company Longwei Culture & Media purchased control of Zhejiang People Culture, a Chinese animation studio and mobile gaming company listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, for CN¥3 billion. Although the acquiring company have answered the Shanghai Stock Exchange questions, several mainland China media and some netizens still boycott it, regard the buyout by a female actor as "the hen cackles in the morning". Furthermore, nationalists combined with ultra-left media attack Zhao continuously. Finally, original banks quit for "uncertainty", causing the acquisition to fail.1998: My Fair Princess (TV)
2001: Shaolin Soccer
2001: Romance in the Rain (TV)
2002: So Close
2005: A Time to Love
2005: Moment in Peking (TV)
2008: Red Cliff
2008: Painted Skin
2010: 14 Blades
2012: Painted Skin: The Resurrection
2013: So Young
2015: Hollywood Adventures
2015: Lost in Hong Kong
2015: Tiger Mom (TV)
1999: Swallow (小燕子)
1999: Magic of Love (爱情大魔咒)
2001: The Last Separation (最后一次分手)
2004: Afloat (飘)
2005: Double (双)
2007: Angel's Suitcase (天使旅行箱)
2009: We're All Great Directors (我们都是大导演)
2001 World University Games
2002 China Youth Development Foundation "Hope Project"
2002 All-China Environment Federation
2004 China Farmers Games
2005 United Nations Children's Fund's "Orphan and Vulnerable Children, Children Affected by AIDS Awareness."
2007 World Special Olympic Games
2007 China Foundation of Disabled Person "Lighting Activities"
2008 China Red Cross "Heart Project"
2009 China Flowers Expo
2010 Changchun Film Festival
2011 Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival
2014 China Sport Show
2014 United Nations Foundation's Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
2016 The Ministry of Public Security of China's Anti-kidnapping
2016 United Nations Development Programme's goodwill ambassador