|October 10, 1966|
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Ling Bai was born on Oct. 10, 1966 in Chengdu, China, where she was raised by her grandmother after her parents fled the country during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In grade school, she sang in the choir and at age 14, enlisted in the Chinese People's Liberation Army where she was a member of a troop that performed for soldiers stationed in Tibet. After her service, Ling took part in pro-Democracy protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989 - a move that resulted in her being alienated by her own government. Around the same time, Ling was starting to make a name for herself as an actress. She gained notoriety for her role in the contemporary Chinese drama "Hu Guang" ("Arc Light") (1988), playing a mentally ill woman who has an affair with her doctor. In 1991, the ambitious Ling moved to New York City. Despite being unable to speak English, she studied at The Lee Strasberg Institute and took film classes at New York University. She made her American film debut as a seductive villain in "The Crow" (1994) followed by the part of a Chinese interpreter in Oliver Stone's drama "Nixon" (1995).
It was not long before Ling made an impact on moviegoers and critics with her memorable turn as a Chinese lawyer defending an American journalist (Gere) in "Red Corner" (1997). While the film became a hit in the U.S., it was banned in North Korea and China for its controversial themes, resulting in Ling's Chinese passport being revoked. The U.S. government was more accepting of her and granted Ling citizenship in 1999, one year after she made People magazine's list of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World." She also caught the eye of crooner Chris Isaac, whom she dated in the mid-1990s and whose music video "Please" (1998) she appeared in. In 1999, Ling starred alongside Jodie Foster in the period piece "Anna and the King." The role called for Ling to cut her waist-length hair to a much shorter hairdo, a look the actress liked enough to maintain for years after. By the early 2000s, however, the roles Ling began to take on clearly indicated that her star had begun to fall. She was still highly sought after for roles that called for the exotic types in films like the sci-fi adventure "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (2004) and the skateboard saga "Lords of Dogtown" (2005), and continued to score roles on the international scene, turning in one of her finest performances in her Hong Kong film debut "Sam gang yi" (2004), a horror film where she played an ageless woman whose beauty secret involved eating aborted fetuses. In 2005, however, she was cast in the fantasy epic "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," but her role ended up on the cutting room floor - she would claim, because she posed in the June 2005 issue of Playboy. Director George Lucas disagreed, stating that Ling's role was cut more than a year before that issue hit the newsstands. On the bright side, she made Playboy magazine history as the first Asian woman to nab the cover.
With memories of her mainstream promise having slipped away, Ling kept herself firmly in the spotlight with her bizarre fashion choices that she proudly displayed on numerous red-carpet events and at nightclub openings and charity fundraisers she indiscriminately attended. In fact, she was a mainstay on everyone's "worst dressed" lists, thanks to a multitude of all-out atrocious, barely-there outfits that offended fashionistas labeled "Nipples A'blazin" and "Swimsuit with Saddlebags." Reality TV seemed tailor made for Ling, and she not surprisingly became a brief sensation in 2005 after competing on VH1's "But Can They Sing?" where she literally screeched her way through a pitchless, heavily-accented rendition of Madonna's "Like A Virgin" (1984). Her personal life also made headlines, including a 2008 arrest for shoplifting at Los Angeles International Airport while on her way to New Mexico to film "Love Ranch" (2010), starring Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci. The actress later admitted to taking two magazines and two battery packs without paying, and was ultimately charged with petty theft and slapped with a $250 fine. In 2009, Ling was rumored to be dating that year's comeback king, actor/fellow iconoclast Mickey Rourke - rumors she denied. She also raised eyebrows for proclaiming herself one of the world's best actresses in numerous interviews. That same year, the ever diligent Ling appeared in her biggest role since "Red Corner," playing a fast-talking call girl in the adrenaline-fueled Jason Statham actioner "Crank: High Voltage" (2009).
By Candy Cuenco