When most actresses make the transition from ingenue to star, they revamp their look or indulge in shopping sprees that mere mortals can only dream of. Not Beijing-born Ziyi Zhang the petite 25-year-old actress celebrated her big year by merely changing her name. ''It was my publicist's idea,'' giggles the former Zhang Ziyi, who flipped the order of her moniker to conform to Western custom. ''Either way, I'm still me, right?''
The switch may seem trivial, but it marks a career-defining moment for Zhang: her seduction of Western audiences. Although she first flirted with fame after playing a rebellious aristocrat in 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it wasn't until this past August that Zhang finally gained widespread notice with a mesmeric supporting role in Miramax's martial-arts epic Hero, which has grossed $54 million in North America. And in this December's critically acclaimed House of Flying Daggers, Zhang proves her mettle as blind warrior Mei; she trained fervently for her fight sequences, and lived for two months with a young blind woman. ''I wanted to study her movements on a daily basis,'' she says. ''That was the only way I could truly gain insight into her world.''
Next year could be just as big for Zhang: She's shooting Memoirs of a Geisha in L.A. for Chicago helmer Rob Marshall and producer Steven Spielberg, due for a December 2005 release. And we can't wait to see her name in lights again, in whatever order she likes.