Chinese Director Zhang Yimou
Zhang Yimou (Simplified Chinese: 张艺谋) (born November 14, 1951) is a Chinese film director, producer, writer and actor, and former cinematographer. He is counted amongst the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, having made his directorial debut in 1987 with Red Sorghum.
Zhang has won numerous awards and recognitions, with Best Foreign Film nominations for Ju Dou in 1990 and Raise the Red Lantern in 1991, Silver Lion and Golden Lion prizes at the Venice Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 1993, he was a member of the jury at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival. Zhang directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, which received considerable international acclaim.
One of Zhang's recurrent themes is the resilience of Chinese people in the face of hardship and adversity, a theme which has been explored in such films as, for example, To Live (1994) and Not One Less (1999). His films are particularly noted for their rich use of colour, as can be seen in some of his early films, like Raise the Red Lantern, and in his wuxia films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. His most recent film is a historical drama war film called The Flowers of War.
His Film Career
After graduation, these first post-Cultural Revolution students (who came to be known as the "fifth generation" Chinese cinema directors) were posted to regional films studios. Zhang Yimou was assigned to the Guangxi studio, which had been founded in 1974, towards the end of the Cultural Revolution. Lacking any clear production policy, the studio was open to suggestions from its new recruits who, in 1983, advocated the establishment of a Youth Production Unit.
Following One and The Eight, Zhang Yimou acted as director of photography on the first two films of his contemporary at the Beijing Film Academy, Chen Kaige. The first of these, Yellow Earth (1984), effectively launched the fifth generation outside China and was much commended for its innovative camerawork, in which small figures were photographed against vast expanses of sky. Chen Kaige's second film, The Big Parade, underwent extensive censorship and revision but again Zhang Yimou's camerawork, capturing the agonies of "square-bashing" in the grueling sun -- this time in widescreen -- was much admired.
Zhang Yimou had long wanted to direct himself and was able to do so by transferring in 1985 from Guangxi studio to the Xi'an studio, then run by the imaginative and entrepreneurial Wu Tianming. Wu initially invited Zhang to join him in Xi'an (where he had been born) to photograph his own upcoming production Old Well. Zhang agreed on the understanding that he could then direct his own first film. In the end, Zhang Yimou not only photographed Old Well, but played the leading role himself, winning Best Actor Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival. (Though acting is only a subsidiary pursuit for Zhang Yimou, he also played the lead in the 1990 Hong Kong costume drama A Terra Cotta Warrior, opposite Gong Li).
Zhang Yimou's first film as director, Red Sorghum, won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 1988 and launched his international career. A rural drama of the war years, with the Japanese as the enemy, it also marked the acting debut of the young actress Gong Li, whom Zhang had discovered while she was a student. She has since appeared in all his films, winning the award as Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival in 1992 for The Story of Qiu Ju.
Zhang Yimou followed up Red Sorghum with a more conventional action picture, Operation Cougar, depicting the hijacking of an airliner, but returned to form with Ju Dou and Raise The Red Lantern, both intense and beautifully shot period pieces that were nominated for Oscars as Best Foreign Language Film in 1990 and 1991. Raise the Red Lantern won for Best Foreign Film in 1991 at the New York Film Critics Circle. Also in 1991, the movie won for Best Cinematography at the LA Film Critics Association.
The Story of Qiu Ju marked a conscious change of direction for Zhang Yimou -- away from the ornate style of his previous two films towards a more realistic and even humorous manner. In particular, he made use in this film of hidden cameras to capture the gestures and reactions of real Chinese peasants photographed unawares. It was rewarded with the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, while Gong Li's performance was also recognized at the closing awards ceremony.