Li was born in Wuchang, Heilongjiang, China. She had no intention of becoming an actress initially and she enrolled specifically in a high school for prospective school teachers. However, upon graduation, she discovered her interest in acting and was eventually persuaded by a friend to join the Shanghai Theatre Academy in 1993.
Her film debut was Zhang Yuan's "Seventeen Years," which won her the "Best Actress" Award in the 1999 Singapore Film Festival. In 2001, Li starred in the television series "Young Justice Bao," which propelled her to become one of the most famous actresses in China. That year she was awarded the title of one of the "Top Ten Best TV actors/actresses in China." From then on, Li was approbated as an "action actress" as she starred in a number of wuxia television series, such as "Taiji Prodigy" and "Eight Heroes."
In 2005, Li starred in director Dayyan Eng's romantic comedy "Waiting Alone," which received three Chinese academy award nominations, including Best Picture and Li's first Best Actress nomination at the Golden Rooster Awards. That same year, Li won the title of "The Most Popular Actress" at the 12th Beijing College Film Festival. She went on to star in Feng Xiaogang's "A World Without Thieves," which earned her a nomination for "Best Supporting Actress" Award at the 2006 Hundred Flowers Awards.
Li won the "Best Actress" Awards at the 2007 Huabiao Awards and at the 2008 Hundred Flowers Awards for her performance in "The Knot"; the film was also China's entry for the Best Foreign Film award at the 2008 Academy Awards. She also co-starred with Jet Li and Jackie Chan in the 2008 film "The Forbidden Kingdom" as the White-Haired Witch. In November 2009, Li won the Best Leading Actress Award at the 46th Golden Horse Film Awards for her role in the espionage spy thriller "The Message."
Li's most recent notable role is Shangguan Jing'er in Tsui Hark's 2010 film "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame." Her character in this movie is loosely based on Shangguan Wan'er, a poet, writer and politician of the Tang Dynasty. Her first-time leading role in an English-language film is Wayne Wang's "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," a film adaptation from Lisa See's 2005 novel of the same title. She also co-starred and co-produced with Jackie Chan in "1911," which was released in September 2011 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. She plays video game character Ada Wong dubbed by Sally Cahill, an action femme fatale in "Resident Evil: Retribution," starring alongside Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory and Shawn Roberts and directed by Paul W.S Anderson. Li appeared alongside Mark Wahlberg in "Transformers: Age of Extinction," directed by Michael Bay, and will be reprising her role as Ada in the upcoming "Resident Evil: Rising."
Li is a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, WWF Earth Hour Global Ambassador and Ambassador of Korean Culture in China.
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