- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

HONG KONG (AP) - Director Gu Changwei is praising the all-star cast he assembled in his first film in four years, a drama exploring how AIDS impacts a rural Chinese village.

“Til Death Do Us Part” stars Zhang Ziyi, known for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and Hong Kong actor-singer Aaron Kwok as her love interest. The cast also includes Gu’s wife, actress Jiang Wenli, and veteran Chinese actor Pu Cunxin, as well as real AIDS patients.

Gu said the role of an ostracized patient “really belonged to no one other than Ziyi.”

Zhang, whose recent credits include the romantic comedy “Sophie’s Revenge” and the English-language thriller “Horsemen,” said her role as a social outcast was extremely absorbing.

“It was very hard to separate myself from the character at any given moment. I was always living in the world of my character,” Zhang told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference Tuesday.

Gu started as a cinematographer for famed Chinese directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige on movies like “Red Sorghum,” “Ju Dou” and “Farewell My Concubine.” His directorial debut, the 2005 family drama “Peacock,” won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, and he followed it two years later with “And the Spring Comes,” starring his wife as a school teacher who aspires to be an opera singer.

Gu and Jiang marveled at the “Til Death” performances by Zhang and Kwok, a heartthrob idol who has reinvented himself as a serious actor. He won back-to-back best actor trophies at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards _ the Chinese industry’s equivalent of the Oscars _ in 2005 and 2006 for the crime thriller “Divergence” and the drama “After This Our Exile.”

Both Gu and Jiang said they couldn’t picture the glamorous Hong Kong star as a down-to-earth Chinese villager but were pleasantly surprised.

“I was thinking, ‘How could it be Aaron Kwok? He is so different,’” Jiang said. “But when I came on set on the first day I couldn’t recognize him. That’s when I thought he had succeeded.”

“Til Death Do Us Part” will be released in China on May 10.

A companion documentary had its Asian premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival on Monday. In “Together,” Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang recorded the difficulties of finding AIDS patients to appear in the feature film.