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On November 26, 2016, 24-year-old Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu won the 53rd Taiwan Golden Horse Award for Best Actress for her rebellious and erratic performance in Soul Mate. She shared the award with her costar Ma Sichun, who played the other lead in the film, marking the first time in the history of the Golden Horse Awards, the equivalent of the Oscars for Mandarinlanguage cinema, that the annual honor has been bestowed on two different actresses.
Soul Mate is a romantic drama about two best friends reaching adulthood. Because of the changes brought on by maturity, the two girls’ friendship is tested and their lives veer away from each other. Many critics have opined that the young Zhou was lucky to win on her first nomination, but that her portrayal of the impulsive and contradictory Ansheng captured audiences’ attention and connected with them emotionally as the character’s mood shifted.
A Lucky Start
Zhou was born into an ordinary family in Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province in early 1992. Before turning 18, her life was like that of most her peers in China: dominated by commuting between home and school. In 2010, Zhang Yimou, arguably the best-known and most internationally recognized Chinese director working today, chose Zhou from more than 8,000 actresses to star in Under the Hawthorn Tree. Although Zhou was a senior high school student without any acting experience, the veteran filmmaker sensed her potential.
Her sentimental yet vivid portrayal of the heroine in Under the Hawthorn Tree prompted rave reviews by critics and spectators alike, and Zhou soon became known to the people of her hometown after winning Best Actress at the 56th Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain, the Outstanding New Actress Award at the 14th China Huabiao Awards and Best New Performer at the 20th Shanghai Film Critics Association Awards for her role in Under the Hawthorn Tree.
The luck of the emerging actress continued from there. In 2011, she was admitted to the Beijing Film Academy (BFA), China’s most respected film school, which has produced plentiful artists and filmmakers that now form the backbone of the country’s film industry. While the school’s admission process is one of the toughest and its admission rate one of the lowest in the country, Zhou managed to get in. “Zhou applied for the acting major, but the entrance exam covered both acting and academic subjects,” noted BFA President Zhang Huijun. “Although her academic scores were not as good as her acting scores, we admitted her due to her obvious gift for acting.”