Starred opposite Gong Li in the 1986 film Red Sorghum and played Baze Malbus in the 2016 film Rogue One. He also directed the film Devils on the Doorstep, which won the Grand Prix at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.
He first worked in the film industry as an actor, achieving fame for his role on the TV series A Native of Beijing in New York.
He was considered to be a key player in the so-called Sixth Generation of Chinese filmmakers.
He married French actress Sandrine Chenivisse with whom he had a daughter. He then married actress Zhou Yun and the pair had two sons.
He won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival the same year Lars Von Trier won the top prize at the festival for Dancer in the Dark.