‘Put the Blame on…Mei’: Zhang Ziyi and the Politics of Global Stardom

  • Olga Kourelou


The above lyrics feature in Zhang Yimou’s martial arts epic, Shi mian mai fu/House of Flying Daggers (2004), sung by the film’s star, Zhang Ziyi. Zhang plays the role of Mei, an entertainer renowned for her allure and exquisite dance and singing abilities. In one of the film’s most spectacular sequences, Mei performs a seductive dance while singing the above song, whose words about the destructive powers of a beautiful woman serve as a parallel to the diegesis and her characterization. The lyrics of Mei’s song are derived from a famous Chinese poem entitled Jiarenqu, meaning The Beauty Song.1 According to Anne E. McLaren, this poem contains the earliest reference to the phrase qing guo qing cheng, literally ‘one who ruins city and state’; a phrase commonly used in China to refer to a femme fatale (McLaren 1994: 1). The femme fatale image, indeed, is one that Zhang Ziyi has been closely associated with not only in House of Flying Daggers but throughout her career. Appearing mainly in genre films, in particular wuxia pian,2 and period pieces, as well as in auteur films, such as Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 (2004), Zhang has built her star persona as a hybrid icon of dangerous beauty, amalgamating elements from Chinese women warriors with traits from alluring courtesans and sing-song girls (a sexualized female type I discuss later in more detail).


Film Industry Beautiful Woman White Tiger Cultural Authenticity Femme Fatale 
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© Olga Kourelou 2010

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  • Olga Kourelou

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