It was at the 2011 Paris Fashion Week when a strikingly beautiful girl in a perfect ensemble caught the attention of the international press, turning Chen Ran into a much-watched “new face of the East”. Combined with her globalised, outgoing personality and open smile, Chen has since solidified her position as China’s favourite “It Girl”.
By Cecilia Chan, Edited by Wen-Xi Chen
It’s hard not to be affected by Chen Ran’s infectious laugh, it draws people in, and it brightens up everything in her vicinity. There’s a certain magic in its ability to make people forget their troubles for a moment. “For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to laugh,” Chen recalls, “I’m an optimistic person and my friends say that seeing me laugh lifts their spirits, so I hope to affect more people with my optimism.”
Born in 1985, Chen is constantly mistaken for a post-90s kid, due in part to her “big girl” persona. Converse to her globetrotting image, Chen was born in the small town of Xiaoxian, Anhui province. As a child, she would often follow her two older brothers to play in the mountains. It was in this wild and unhindered environment where Chen’s open personality developed. From the fashion circles to the world of acting, her tomboyish and straightforward air has attracted many admirers. In fact, her close friends have jokingly nicknamed her “Brother Ran” in reference to her boyish habits. Not surprising given her unique personality, Chen has her own opinions about the world of fashion: “I think fashion shouldn’t be about pandering to the people, it’s the pursuit of a certain attitude to life, a pursuit of aesthetics. Life and style are intimately linked, even when you step away from the red carpet and the flashlights, you can still be stylish if you allow it to permeate every aspect of your life.”
Style-wise, Chen is in constant state of flux, and an adventurer of the fashion landscape, enjoying the creative freedoms of a chameleon-like wardrobe. Unafraid to mix and match clashing colours and patterns, for Chen anything goes as long it means being comfortable in her own skin. “Perhaps I just have a natural talent for styling,” she laughs, “I can always seem to pull together disparate items into a coherent but unique outfit.”
A Flair for Fitness
It is not only fashion that Chen holds in high esteem – her other passion is sports. For many Chinese women, exercise is a non-essential, a reserve of the urban elite rather than a part of everyday life. Chinese society’s admiration for the fragile beauty of Dream of the Red Chamber’s sickly Lin Daiyu is still held as a yardstick for female beauty standards. Chen’s sunny disposition buckles the conventions. As a student, she showed a natural affinity for the arts; she could sing, dance, was on the school’s cultural committee and often represented her school in sporting tournaments. “Aside from helping me to maintain a healthy body,” Chen explains, “exercise provides me with well-rounded experiences that help with my work, filling me with endless energy.” Advocating a healthy lifestyle, Chen always sets aside time for sports, competing in a marathon held jointly by US Washington, Chinese Taipei, and Shanghai.
Filling her life with running and yoga, Chen’s healthy, carefree appearance is one of the driving factors in Chinese society starting to rethink the Ling Daiyu-esque “ideal beauty”. A spectator as well as participant in sports, Chen is also a self-confessed football fanatic. Chen recalls with a laugh that she used to go by ‘Chen Rui’, (Rui meaning “auspicious”) but in 2010, her beloved Argentinian football team suffered a crushing 4-0 defeat against Germany during the World Cup quarterfinals. Chen jokingly said to her friend: “If Argentina doesn’t make it into the finals, I will change my name!” Indeed, they lost and our favourite It Girl has gone by ‘Chen Ran’ ever since.
Many Facets of Me
Before graduating from Beijing Film Academy, Chen Ran was already being invited by magazines to shoot photo editorials on a regular basis. Editors called her “China’s Reika Hashimoto”, a popular Japanese actress of Japanese and Spanish heritage. Thanks to her personal charm, Chen was discovered by Hong Kong director Lee Chi-Ngai to act in the drama 2004 Magic Kitchen, the acting role that launched her name.
From playing Kong Rao in Confucius (2010), collaborating with director Chen Kaige on Caught in the Web (2012), appearing as the ‘plum blossom girl’ Zhu Li in the movie Scent, Chen’s character embodies many eras and positions. “I aspire to a challenging life,” Chen divulges, “one that allows me to encounter different people and situations, and take on the impossible. As an actor, one should be able to embody different roles and avoid being typecast. Once the industry and public sees you as a certain type of actress then there is very little room for progress. As such, I like different roles bring new and unique experiences for me.”
Before filming, Chen would read large numbers of materials and books, sometimes even launching into a scene when she’s taking a shower and performing a monologue with the showerhead.
Chen recently just wrapped up shooting on the Chen Kaige directed martial-arts action movie Monk Comes Down from the Mountains where she takes on the role of a fourth wife, starring alongside Aaron Kwok, Lin Chi-ling, Zhang Zheng, and Wang Baoqiang. Audiences can see her latest performance when the movie hits theatres in July.