Bai Ling (meaning “White Spirit”) was born in Chengdu, China, on October 10, 1970, during that country’s Cultural Revolution. Her father was a music teacher, and her mother was a dancer and stage actress. As a result of their creative professions, the government cruelly treated Bai Ling’s parents, and so the infant Bai Ling was sent to Szechwan to be raised by her grandmother.
While Bai Ling sang in her school choir as a child, it wasn’t until she turned 14 and became a “soldier” in the People’s Liberation Army that she took to the stage; she was put in a performance troupe sent to entertain soldiers in Tibet for three years. Like her parents before her, Bai Ling clashed with authority, and she was accused of insubordination for using tobacco and alcohol. By the end of her army service, Bai Ling suffered from depression and was hospitalized.
bai ling arrives in america
Her breakdown notwithstanding, Bai Ling had found that she could express herself through acting. She joined the Szechwan Theater Company after her recovery, and she soon caught the eye of a number of progressive and traditional Chinese directors. She was cast in film roles ranging from a peasant girl to a pop star, including her most acclaimed early role in the contemporary Chinese drama Hu guang (a.k.a. Arc Light) in 1988, where she played a woman suffering from mental illness. The next year, Bai Ling took part in the infamous Tiananmen Square protests, which further alienated her from the Chinese government.
At age 21, Bai Ling came to America as a visiting scholar at NYU’s film school and took classes at the Lee Strasberg Institute. It was supposed to be a temporary move, but Bai Ling was eager to learn English so that she could break into American films, and she was issued a special visa and allowed to stay in the United States due to her actions at Tiananmen Square. Making her American film debut, Bai Ling played a villain in 1994’s dark thriller The Crow and, the following year, she played a Chinese interpreter in Oliver Stone’s biopic Nixon.
bai ling in red corner
Bai Ling’s English-language breakthrough came in 1997 when she played a Chinese lawyer in Red Corner, opposite Richard Gere. The film was an indictment of the Chinese judicial system and human rights abuses; although she knew she would suffer repercussions from her participation, Bai Ling felt that the evils going on in her country needed to be exposed. Sure enough, Red Corner was banned in China and North Korea. Bai Ling’s contracts to appear in upcoming Chinese films were torn up and her passport was revoked. However, the National Board of Review gave Bai Ling a Breakthrough Performance award; more importantly, Uncle Sam gave her U.S. citizenship in 1999.
bai ling in anna and the king
Once her relocation was made permanent, Bai Ling appeared in a number of big Hollywood productions. 1999 saw her in Wild Wild West and Anna and the King (for which she had to cut her waist-length hair). More recently, she’s been seen in The Beautiful Country (2004), My Baby’s Daddy (2004), Spike Lee’s She Hate Me (2004), and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.
bai ling in revenge of the sith
Bai Ling has a small role as a senator in the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005), and will also appear in Man About Town (2005), starring Ben Affleck. Bai Ling lives in Marina del Rey, California, and is dating singer/actor Chris Isaak.