Chinese actress Gong Li arrives for the opening ceremony of the Cannes film festival. Photo: AFP

‘Of course this is about money’: actress Gong Li irked by lack of Chinese films at Cannes

Star of Zhang Yimou films such as Raise the Red Lantern says films can nourish the soul, not just entertain, and puts lack of Chinese representation at film festival down to overemphasis on box office

Actress Gong Li made a head-turning return to the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, but the Memoirs of a Geisha star said she’s disappointed at the absence of Chinese films at the festival this year.

Not a single Chinese film is in competition, out of competition, or selected for any other category. Gong said she believes that’s a sign of an industry that cares too deeply about the dollar sign.

“Of course this is about money,” she said. “We need to tell everyone that a movie is not merely for entertainment. It might leave you with something much deeper for your soul. It’s not just for laughs, not just for jokes. It’s more than that. There’s not a lot of people talking about that in China right now.”

The 50-year-old actress has previously starred in films in competition at Cannes and has served as a jury member.

A movie is not merely for entertainment, says Gong Li. Photo: Xinhua

With close to three decades in the business, Gong has worked extensively with Chinese director Zhang Yimou on films such as Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern and To Live. She also worked in Hollywood in the early 2000s, appearing in Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice.

Asked if a lack of roles for Asian actors and actresses has kept her from a larger Hollywood career, Gong said that the issue was less about ethnicity than sex.

“There are a lot of male roles, but not a lot of female roles. There are a lot of great actresses in the US and there aren’t enough roles for them. It’s even hard for them to get a good female role, never mind a Chinese actress. How do you integrate that into the script? That’s very hard. How do you mix a Chinese actor with a group of foreigners? It’s not easy.”