Joan Chen tells about the blind date that led to marriage, the problems of playing an 80-year-old peasant.. and how she liked having her toes sucked in The Last Emperor




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eekends and holidays Joan Chen lives with her Chinese American cardiologist husband of less than two years in a three-story home on a perilously steep corner in the Russian Hill district. The streets are so steep that drivers of manual shifts break out in cold sweat as they ease ahead from uphill dead stops. It's the kind of neighborhood where white-haired, blue-blooded women walk absurdly small dogs and cast suspecting glances at strangers trying to make out addresses from rented cars. As he rings the buzzer at the black iron gate, a visitor takes in the splendor of San Francisco Bay on a flawless August day.

     "We don't have much of a view from inside," offers Joan Chen after buzzing him in. All but stray patches of view are blocked by trees in front of the house. The elegant old home is done in hand-turned wood, beveled glass and white marble. Its mistress, who appears alone at the moment, is handsome and fresh-faced, looking somehow out of place there in her matching denim vest and shorts, hair cropped boyishly for her role in Oliver Stone's Heaven and Earth which, in mid-August, is nearing its final day of shooting.

     It's the last to wrap of three movies she has made back-to-back in the past six months. The second is Golden Gate, written and directed by David Henry Hwang, for which Chen is on call to do looping, the post-production dubbing-in of lines to match footage. The other is a Stephen Segal movie called On Deadly Ground for which Chen spent the first two months of summer playing an eskimo woman in Alaska.

     Ironically, at a time when Joan Chen is becoming comfortably esconced in the role of an American movie star and the wife of a successful capitalist doctor 13 years after abandoning stardom in China, she looks strikingly like the idealized young peasant woman of old communist posters, healthy and clear-skinned. She is now 31, a fact intimated only by her notable self-assurance.


     Chen brings her visitor a glass of water and makes a largely ineffectual effort to slide a pile of art and photo books out of the way on the oval glass coffee table of her living room. Her visitor detects in her a touch of exasperation that he has chosen to set down his tape recorder and notebook in that particularly cluttered spot. Seeing that the visitor has drained his water glass, she brings a pitcher which, by the taste of it, was filled at the tap. Before sitting down to face her interlocutor Joan Chen places two portable phones on a coffee table in front of her. As the conversation gets rolling her vague air of reluctance gives way to an emphatic, animated conversational style. PAGE 2

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“She looks strikingly like the idealized young peasant woman of old communist posters, healthy and clear-skinned.”

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