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No two women on our 2005 list are alike -- except that they're all exceptional and unafraid of the spotlight. As for why we have two representatives from the reviled Memoirs of a Geisha ... well, maybe it's just foolish optimism, but we happen to believe that what won't kill your career will certainly only make it stronger.
After illuminating the silver screen in China for almost two decades (most recently starring with Chang Chen in Wong Kar-Wai's installment of the three-part Eros), Gong Li broke into Hollywood in a stand-out way this year -- by vamping it out, mesmerizing us with her impassioned fury, commanding our attention, and ultimately leaving us stunned and wanting more. Easily, easily, the best part of Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha, Gong Li displayed an intricate complexity of emotion as Hatsumomo, breathing humanity into a potentially one-dimensional villianess and consequently earning herself the Best Supporting Actress award from the National Board of Review. Ruthless vengeance masking pained fragility never felt so right... Next up for 2006, Miami Vice, Young Hannibal and Zhang Yimou's Autumn Remembrance. -- Ada Tseng
Kang Hye-jeong has been a busy lady. 2005 saw her in five different films, which is good news for audiences looking for a leading lady with more than just a pretty face. Kang made her feature film debut a scant four years ago, but has already drawn raves for her work as a warm-hearted sushi chef in Oldboy, a tortured pianist in Three Extremes, and won awards for her turn as a mysterious village idiot who inspires the heros and anti-heros of Welcome to Dongmakgol. Her vast range and unusual looks have rapidly made her one of the most talented actresses, not only in
Slice it any way you want to --Shu Qi is hot. That she’s of the lip-smacking, eye-widening variety is worthy of note, but not necessarily praise, which should be reserved for her intangibles. Such as the way she pouts and preens without a hint of camp or vamp. In the hands of an ordinary filmmaker, these would quickly become mercurial assets too difficult to harness. Especially when there’s a simpler alternative -- surrendering to those luscious lips of hers. That’s why Shu breathes most freely in the films of one Hou Hsiao-hsien, who doesn’t waste time with glamor shots. His 2005 masterpiece Three Times, which nabbed Shu the Golden Horse for best actress, is an altar built solely for Shu worship, which is just fine by us. Because in the world of the Asian cineaste, it’s all Shu, all the time. -- Chi Tung
She may not sing about bling, but M.I.A’s got as much street cred as the next rapper … maybe more. The London-born, Sri Lankan artist lived through the 1980s Sinhala-Tamil conflict and now tells her tale in her critically acclaimed debut album Arular, released in 2005. Arular not only moved critics and fans to dance with its innovative collage of electronica, hip hop, and dance hall music; it moved them to think with its provoking lyrics on prostitution, war, and displacement. With her revolutionary approach to rap, it’s no surprise that M.I.A became one of the most sought after and acclaimed artists of the year -- she toured the globe, her songs were featured in a Honda commercial as well as on The O.C., and her album won a highly coveted spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 50 Albums of 2005. With a new album and a documentary on Sri Lanka already in the works, it’s clear that 2005 marked just the beginning of M.I.A’s one woman revolution. -- Ana La O'
Formerly known as the “Elizabeth Taylor of China," Joan Chen starred as “Ma” in one of the year’s breakout romantic comedies Saving Face. The film, which follows two lesbian Chinese-American women in their struggle to cope with cultural, familial, and societal pressures, received positive reviews from critics in its handling of gay relationships. Even with limited release, the film grossed over 1.1 million dollars at the box office. Almost 20 years since her memorable 1987 performance in The Last Emperor, Chen proves to remain a favorite among audiences. -- Queenie Pang
A real drama queen, Song Hye-kyo’s work on the small screen has established her as one of
For all the controversy surrounding A Wayward Cloud, the obvious fact that seemed to go unsaid was that Chen Shiang-chyi gave the performance of the year. In fact, it’s hard to believe the film would have been as controversial without her courage about putting herself in difficult positions, especially within a community as touchy about serious female sexual representation as
From her role in Memoirs of a Geisha, where she played a Japanese geisha, a role that was not without controversy for the actress, and the delightfully nuts musical Princess Raccoon to currently working on the upcoming Ye yan, where she plays the Empress in this spin on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, actress Ziyi Zhang has ceased to slow down or take a breather in the film industry. Having won Best Actress in this year’s China Movie Awards as well as making notable appearances as presenter in the Academy Awards and the MTV Movie Awards and guest spots on The View and The Today Show, this Chinese beauty has gone from being last year's "It" girl to a model of consistency and constancy. -- Katrina Romero
Notoriously outspoken and outrageous, comedian Margaret Cho took a stand once again in 2005 and made us want to laugh, blush, and shout in the process. Her fourth live stand up DVD Assassins -- an assault on everything from the Pope to the media to the president -- received rave reviews from critics and comedians alike. Margaret’s activism and comedy also collided in yet another book release, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight. But 2005 also marked something entirely new for Margaret -- she completed her film Bam Bam and Celeste, her very first fictional screenplay, and presented it at the AFI Film Festival. With three major projects in one year and the upcoming release of Bam Bam and Celeste, Margaret’s keeping up the good fight and she’s definitely got more up her sleeve. -- Ana La O'
2005 was a very prolific year for Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee. Still riding out the successes of last year, Mukherjee raked in 14 Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards for her roles in Hum Tum, Veer-Zaara and Yuva, becoming the first actor ever to win both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in a single year at the Filmfare Awards. Next came her memorable performance in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, in which she took on the challenging role of Michelle McNally, a deaf, blind, and mute girl loosely modeled after Helen Keller. Selected as one of the world's 10 best movies of 2005 by Time Magazine, Black was a unique film for India, a box office hit despite its untraditional style -- no songs, less than two hours long, and with most of its dialogue in English. Her other films Bunty aur Babli and The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey were also major hits in Bollywood this year. And lastly, showing herself to be a master-ess of the period film, she reunited with Shahrukh Khan for the offbeat Paheli, a supernatural story about a ghost that falls in love with a newlywed -- and India's official entry for the 2006 Oscars. Next up for Rani, Baabul and Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna... and many many many more of those sensational Bollywood films we know and love. -- Ada Tseng
Honorable mention: Lee Yeong-Ae, Kim Ji-su, Kristin Kreuk, Sandra Oh, Parminder Nagra, Yoon Jin-Kim, Kozy (from Kozyndan), Amerie, Gayatri Joshi, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gang Hye-jung, Zhao Tao, Zhou Xun
Date Posted: 1/2/2006