It's hard to know, just from talking with Bai Ling, which of her roles have been leads and which have been walk-ons -- she seems to view all of her activities as equally relevant chapters in the Story of Bai. An eye-witness to the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989, she departed for NYU film school in 1991 and began to land roles. Fifteen years later, she's a fixture on party circuits, an unabashed lover of American pop culture -- the trashier the better -- and, at 35, an actress with serious credentials. She recently played the female lead in The Beautiful Country and Face, both dramas about Asian-American identity, and was praised by the New York Times for showing "tremendous range" in the latter. Next up is a starring role in Shanghai Baby, adapted from the controversial 2001 novel about sexuality in modern China.
In between the big roles, there's a portfolio of pop-ons. You probably remember the eyeball-collecting villainess in The Crow, and the interpreter who delivers Chairman Mao's icy retorts in Oliver Stone's Nixon: "You're as evil as I am ....". She was also the begoggled ninja in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and has a quick comedic turn as a peep-show stripper in David Mamet's Edmond, released Friday. And yet another one is forth-coming, this time as an abstruse oracle called Serpentine in Richard Kelly's sophomore sprawl, Southland Tales.
Appropriately, the film Bai is best-known for is one she wasn't even in: Ling's posing with a large, phallic lightsaber in the June 2005 Playboy may have caused George Lucas to snip her role as Senator Breemu out of the wholesome-as-a-Happy Meal Star Wars: Episode III. Her comments at the time indicated that belief; Lucas denied it. When Cinematical recently spoke with Bai, in Manhattan to do press for Edmond, she was feeling diplomatic.