Zhang’s role in the film Mo Zi allowed her to do exactly what she aims for: telling an impactful story. The film depicts the formation, evolution and development of the basic thoughts of the ancient noble Chinese Scholar Mozi. It is a great way to save the people from the selfishness and self-sacrifice of the artistic image.
“I am a great philosopher and follower of the old principles. I rule my life by the old masters that have taught us so much throughout thousands and thousands of years. Being part of this film was important for me, since I had at least a bit of a sensation that I was living in the same era as my favorite authors,” said Zhang. “This is the kind of film that inspires me and the ones I’d love to keep playing. I’d love to keep making well-done period films, since they always come with a big responsibility of bringing someone from the past to the present time. This was a great experience. I’d be happy of doing it again any time.”
Zhang was the second leading actress in the film, playing the character of Song, a friend and the connection between Mo Zi and Yangyan Lu, his partner. While Lu was locked in a different kingdom, Song stayed by her side, to keep her updated about Mo Zi’s moves. If Mo Zi and Yangyan Lu had tried to contact each other, that could've led them to a disgrace. The King would have killed them both, even though he also had feelings for Lu. Zhang’s character is pivotal to the story, and she loved playing Song.
“When you are surrounded by people with knowledge about the era we were filming, you can learn so much. From the oldest to the youngest person on that set, they were all into the great ‘old’ principles, so just by talking, we were able to share experiences and other things related with the Masters. Anything said during the shoot was worth listening to,” said Zhang.
The role required Zhang to wear large, ancient Chinese costumes, which were extremely authentic. Zhang has always loved clothes from the old times, and was eager to be able to wear the costumes in the film. Zhijie Shi, a producer on the film, says that even though the weather was not ideal for large heavy clothing, Zhang’s commitment to the film overcame any obstacle that came in her way.
“Ariel made everyone happy on set. It was very pleasant to work with her. When we were shooting movie Mo Zi, the conditions of our shooting location were not very pleasing, but she never complained about anything. She worked very hard on her role. She could keep shooting hour after hour with very heavy ancient costumes in the sweltering summer. She looked so delicate, but she surprised me with her courage and strength,” said Shi. “Ariel is a very talented and hardworking actress. She is very persistent on what she does. She has a very high demand for herself, always trying to make every single detail to be perfect. I believe the power she has is infinite.”
Zhang describes Shi as one of the most hard working people she has ever met, saying that at some points he didn’t even look like a producer, because he would walk around the set helping everyone, taking on what seemed to be twenty roles. She says everyone she worked with on Mo Zi had a similar attitude, and the entire experience from start to finish was a good one.
“I liked everything. The people around working on their characters were so connected to that period of time, that everything felt so ‘old’ in a good way. Locations and costumes were also one of my favorite things,” she said.
Mo Zi was broadcasted in the CCTV movie channel in China during prime time hours in 2008. It was by Henan Elephant film Production Company and directed by Jia Gang. It was also an important moment for Zhang’s now celebrated career, as it was the first time she ever was on television.
“It was strange. You know how when you hear a recording of your voice it sounds wrong? Being on TV is like that times ten. I remember I skipped the channel immediately after I saw my face,” she laughed. “I’m of course used to it now, though.”
Despite Mo Zi being her first experience seeing herself on the big screen, it paved the way for the type of stories Zhang has told for her entire career. Since that time, she has gone on to be an internationally successful and award-winning actress, but the message of that first major film she did stuck with her.
“Life nowadays goes by so fast. People don't always connect with their inner-self. This film is about old traditions and how life was simpler before, when you cared less about materialistic things, and were more into life itself. It is an important message,” she concluded.