“Everyone has dreams, but not everyone has the opportunity to achieve them.” This was Yao Chen’s answer in an interview by Patrick Frater (Variety) in 2018. “But I have found that success is largely just an accident” she continued, “and that failure is the more common outcome. Now that I have learned to be a friend of failure, I am actually more confident and am more comfortable with my performances.”
Such is the sincere modesty of Yao Chen, ranked by Time as one of the 100 most influential people globally and by Forbes magazine as one of the most important women in the world. There are many reasons for her multi-faceted fame. Yao is not simply a film star but also an activist committed to humanitarian initiatives. Since 2011, she has taken advantage of her vast following (about 77 million followers on Weibo, the “Chinese Twitter”) to carry out important awareness-raising campaigns for refugee rights. In 2013 she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador by UNHCR, and in 2016 she received the Crystal Award for her humanitarian work.
Yao Chen debuted on the small screen in 2005 with the series My Own Swordsman, while in 2009’s hugely popular Chinese TV series Lurk, she played a brave Chinese guerrilla. Making a powerful start to her career, she burst onto the scene with a charisma which reflected that of the characters she played. In 2010 she was cast in her first major film role when she was chosen to play the leading part in Color Me Love, a Chinese version of The Devil Wears Prada. The film was a huge hit and confirmed her as one of the most promising Chinese actresses. The 2012 social drama Caught in the Web, by Chen Kaige, marked the beginning of a new phase in her career: in it, Yao Chen moved away from her early romantic comedy roles to play a tormented and ambitious investigative journalist. The following year, she worked alongside Andy Lau in Alan Yuen’s action-thriller Firestorm, that earned her a well-deserved Outstanding Actress Award at the Chinese Film Media Awards.
In 2018, Yao Chen played an ambitious lawyer whose life is suddenly turned upside-down by the abduction of her daughter by her nanny in Lost, Found. Contended by the two women, the child becomes the symbol of a conflict which is both social and human. The film, directed by Lue Yue and produced by Feng Xiaogang, is in competition at FEFF21.
An award-winner both as actress and as activist, Yao Chen is a proud representative of that new figure of the politically active, militant multi-faceted artist who is willing to engage with the reality outside of the screen in order to change it.