Li Gong was born in Shenyang, on 31st December 1965 in the Liaoning Province of China. She is the daughter of an economics professor and hoped to see herself as a singer in the future. As a child, she wanted to study at the most prestigious University of Music in China but was denied entrance. Subsequently, she joined the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing and graduated from there in 1989.
Her first film as an actress, and Zhang Yimou’s first as a director, she was chosen by the same to act as a lead in the movie ‘Red Sorghum’ (1987), which gained her critical acclaim in the industry. Over the years, she received international acclaim in several others of Zhang Yimou’s films namely – ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ (1992) and ‘Ju Dou’ (1990). The most acclaimed of her movies was the Oscar-nominated “Raise the Red Lantern”, an adaptation of the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong. This film was praised much in the international circuit. Their much collaboration ended after a breakup happened in their personal relationship.
Li received many awards, out of which she received the Best Actress at the 49th Venice International Film Festival for her performance in “The Story of Qiu Ju” (1992). Despite her wide known reach till Hollywood, she avoided acting in English movies due to the lack of confidence in speaking English. Her English speaking debut was the Hatsumomo drama “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005) for which she received positive reviews. Her other memorable English films to date are the “Chinese Box” (1997), and “Miami Vice” (2006) where she played the famous Montoya’s financial advisor and secret lover, which gained her international commendation and recognition, and “Hannibal Rising” (2007). After a long gap, she reunited with Zhang Yimou for the 2014 film “
Coming Home”. This was her first collaboration with Yimou after 2006 (where their last collaboration “Curse of the Golden Flower” was released). “Coming Home” was scheduled to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival at 2014.
Li was married to the Tobacco Tycoon Ooi Hoe Seong from 1996 to 2010 before they decided to end their relationship.