I started a Zhang thread a few years back, but I'm too lazy to go and dig it up so I'll just respond to this one.
I fucking loved
her when she first broke out on screen in Zhang Yimou's 'The Road Home'. Her performance in that film was so natural and subtle that it instantly caught my eyes, and she continued to mesmerize me with a tour de force turn in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, a role I personally felt should've earned her a Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
But unfortunately, it just went downhill after those two great performances. Rush Hour 2 was awful and while she made for a great eye candy in that film, the role was so
beneath her that it didn't give her a chance to bring anything memorable to the film, but that's not really a fault of her performance.
What I really disliked, however, was her turns in Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Sorry to fans of these two films, but I seriously 'em disliked both (and this is coming from a HUGE fan of Zhang Yimou) and Zhang's performances in them, which were completely bland and uninspired for the most part, and dreadfully overplayed during some of the big emotional scenes.
'2046' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha', however, were decent enough performances (though far from great) and helped raised my respect for her up a notch after 'Rush Hour 2', 'Hero', and 'Daggers', but I just think she has the potential to star in much better films and provide much better performances. It seems that her status as a bona fide star has clouded some of those genuine acting talents she showcased 5 years ago or so.
I'll give her a mild yay for now because she has still given more good performances than bad, but my opinion could change for the better or the worse, depending on how she improves (or not) as an actress.
To me, she's sort of a poor man's Gong Li (one of my all time favorite actresses, I'd urge anyone to check out To Live, Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou, & Red Sorghum, all of which are great examples of her talent............something that a film like 'Memoirs of a Geisha' does not showcase), but not nearly as good an actress and not nearly as beautiful either.