Apart from school, she also received training in piano, dance, and Chinese ink wash painting.In 1993, while Zhao was still in school, the movie A Soul Haunted by Painting (1994), directed by Huang Shuqin, starring Gong Li and Derek Yee, was filming in Wuhu.She identified Zhao Wei as a talent after watching Sisters in Beijing and offered Zhao the title role of Huan Zhu Ge Ge (Princess Pearl) a.k.a. A few times I worked so hard that I actually threw up from the exertion. She was regarded by many as mainland China's first "national idol", and was named one of Taiwan's "Top Ten Most Outstanding Individuals in Television Industry".Xiao Yanzi ("Little Swallow"), a rebellious and funny princess who dared to challenge authority and rules in the Palace. She is also regarded as one of China's Four Dan Actresses.
The movie earned her multiple awards in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, including Golden Rooster Award for Best Directorial Debut, Hundred Flowers Award for Best Director and Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film from Mainland and Taiwan.While studying at the Beijing Film Academy, Zhao rose to national and regional prominence overnight for her role as Xiao Yanzi ("Little Swallow") in the hit TV series My Fair Princess (1998–1999), for which she also won Golden Eagle Award for Best Actress.My Fair Princess enjoyed unprecedented success in East and Southeast countries, and Zhao is regarded by many as Mainland China's first "national idol" since the economic reform began in 1978.In 2016, Zhao was named as member of the main Jury at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.In September 2017, she was named as a member of the main competition jury for the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival. After secondary school, Zhao entered Wuhu Normal School, a local education institution training students to become pre-school teachers.Zhao was cast for a cameo role, a young prostitute in the brothel where Gong's character works. She appeared briefly at the beginning of the film and had no dialogue.Zhao had developed strong interests in acting after her first acting experience, and decided to become an actress.Filming the series was an arduous task for Zhao and her co-stars; Zhao herself acknowledged the intensity of filming: We shot 18 to 20 hours a day. However, alongside the phenomenal success were increasingly negative critics in mainland China, attacking the rebellious role as a "bad influence" over children and youngsters.During Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference 2002, a member of the CPPCC submit a proposal to calling to boycott the "little swallow".Over her 20 years acting career, Zhao has starred in many box-office hits, including Shaolin Soccer (2001), Red Cliff (2008-2009), Painted Skin (2008), Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), Dearest (2014) and Lost in Hong Kong (2015).She has received numerous awards from the Shanghai International Film Festival, Huabiao Awards, Changchun Film Festival, Hundred Flowers Awards and Shanghai Film Critics Awards for films like A Time to Love (2005) and Mulan (2009).