Cheng Pei Pei, for the casual fan of martial arts films, gained major attention with her role as Jade Fox, the villainous swordswoman in Ang Lee's 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' back in 2000. But that role was just the latest and greatest high point of a storied career for the actress regarded as "The Queen of Swords". Born in Shanghai, China, Pei-Pei parlayed her six years of ballet training into entering the Shaw Brothers' performing arts training course. With that, she was now ready to be an actress for the studio, her first role being in 1964's 'Lover's Rock.' Her first significant role was playing a male scholar in 'The Lotus Lamp' in 1965. A year later, she would claim critical international stardom for the first time as Golden Swallow in King Hu's 'Come Drink With Me.'
With that role, Cheng became a leading star for Shaw in movies as the dashing, virtuous and fierce heroine who could wield a sword and make her fights look like poetry. She even got the chance to rely upon her dance expertise in a few musicals for Shaw, 'Hong Kong Nocturne' and 'Blue Skies' being the most notable. But the times changed, and with it her leading stature. She was stifled as directors sought to soften her once powerful characters; it's known that she chafed at the direction of Chang Cheh when filming 'Golden Swallow', a film meant to be the sequel to 'Come Drink With Me' but one that saw her title character overshadowed by Jimmy Wang Yu. Fed up and looking for a change, she wound up leaving Shaw in 1971 and moved to America and was married. She did, however make two films for the Golden Harvest studio in 1973, both tough finds today. That led to her working in television mostly until Ang Lee's casting of her as Jade Fox.
Today, Cheng Pei Pei is still working, and her daughter, Eugenia Yuan has gained some success as an actress herself both in Hong Kong and internationally, her most recognizable role being in 'Memoirs Of A Geisha'. I will say that every Cheng Pei Pei film I've seen has been highly enjoyable. She's an actress that emotes wonderfully and has a distinct charisma that lingers long after you've watched her. Be sure to stick with Hai! Karate for more on her films.