Raise the Red Lantern
"Western audiences can gain an impression of China from my films. This is an excellent channel for promoting China's culture." Yimou Zhang
Internationally acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Yimou Zhang garnered rave reviews for his films "Ju Dou" (1990), "Da hong deng long gao gao gua" (1991; aka "Raise the Red Lantern"), "Qiu Ju da guan si" (1992; aka "The Story of Qiu Ju"), "Huozhe" (1994; aka "To Live"), "Ying xiong" (2002; aka "Hero"), "Shi mian mai fu" (2004; aka "House of Flying Daggers") and "Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia" (2006; aka "Curse of the Golden Flower").
A member of the jury at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1993 and a jury president of the 2007 Venice Film Festival as well as a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Zhang now serves as chief director of opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, for which he teamed up with Steven Spielberg before the American legendary filmmaker decided to quit the event, citing concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, which he linked to the Chinese government.
"Everyone in China knows about the Oscar. It’s very well known there and there’s a lot of talk there about it and who should or shouldn’t get it. For me, if I were to get it, it would be a nice affirmation of all the work that I’ve done over the years, but at the same time, I’m not that fixated on it. I’ve been nominated three or four times, which is more than any other Chinese director, and I haven’t got it yet. I think a lot of it has to do with luck. Mostly, it’s the kind of thing like we have a saying in Chinese: ‘If you think about it too much, you’re not going to get it.’ So I just don’t think about it and we’ll see what happens. I think it all depends on luck at the end of the day." Yimou Zhang
On a more personal note, Zhang dated actress Gong Li from 1987 to 1995. She often starred in his films.
Childhood and Family:
"The Cultural Revolution was a very special period of Chinese history, unique in the world. It was part of my youth. It happened between when I was 16 and when I was 26. During those 10 years, I witnessed so many terrible and tragic things. For many years, I have wanted to make movies about that period; to discuss the suffering and to talk about fate and human relationships in a world which people couldn't control and which was very hostile. I would like to make not just one but many movies, both autobiographical and drawing on other people's stories. I'll just have to wait." Yimou Zhang
In the city of Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, China, Yimou Zhang was born on November 14, 1951. Born to an officer father who served in Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Army (Nationalist Party), little Zhang suffered from stigmatization during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s because of his family's association with the Kuomintang. One of his brothers was accused of being a spy and another brother fled to Taiwan. Zhang's high school studies were even suspended and he was sent to work with the peasants on farms in the countryside. He would later be transferred to a spinning mill. During this time, he became interested in painting and photography. He reportedly sold his blood for five months to get enough money to buy his first camera when he was 18.
After the Cultural Revolution came to an abrupt end with the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, 27-year-old Zhang struggled to enter the Beijing Film Academy and eventually graduated with a BFA degree in 1982. There, he studied with future filmmakers Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang, and Zhang Junzhao and formed China's Fifth Generation of filmmakers.
Yimou Zhang, nicknamed “Lao MouZi” (loosely meaning "old schemer/strategist"), was married to Hua Xie, who, according to a March 1991 interview, refuses to give Zhang a divorce. From 1987 to 1995, Zhang dated acclaimed Chinese film actress Gong Li (born on December 31, 1965), who often starred in his films.
House of Flying Daggers
Graduating from the Beijing Film Academy in 1982 at age 31, Yimou Zhang was assigned to the far away Guangxi Film studio where he worked as a cinematographer. He marked his debut as a feature cinematographer with Jun-Zhao Zheng's novel-based film "Yi ge he ba ge" (1983; aka "One and Eight").
Three years later, in 1986, Zhang began working at the pioneering Xian Film Studios where he played the lead role in Wu Tianming's romantic drama film “Lao jing” (1986; aka “Old Well”). For his brilliant performance in the film, Zhang won the Best Actor Award at the 1987 Tokyo International Film Festival and the 1988 Golden Rooster Awards.
Zhang soon made his debut as a director with "Hong gao liang" (1987; aka "Red Sorghum"), a war drama based on a novel by Mo Yan. Starring his then-girlfriend, Gong Li (also her acting debut), the film became a critical and commercial success. Zhang was nominated for Best Director at the 1987 Golden Rooster Awards and the film won a Golden Berlin Bear award at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival.
Zhang followed it up with his second film, "Daihao meizhoubao" (1989; aka "Codename Cougar"), a drama/thriller he co-directed with Fengliang Yang. His third film, "Ju Dou" (1990), a tragedy starring Gong Li in the title role, became the first Chinese film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, in 1990. Notable for being shot in vivid Technicolor long after the process had been abandoned in the United States, the film was also nominated for a Golden Palm at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival and won a Golden Spike at the same year's Valladolid International Film Festival.
In 1991, Zhang helmed "Da hong deng long gao gao gua" (aka "Raise the Red Lantern"), the internationally acclaimed film adaptation of the 1990 novel "Wives and Concubines" by Su Tong. It stars Gong Li as the new concubine to a wealthy master who arouses tension amongst the other wives in the 1920s China during the Warlord Era. It won Best Film not in the English Language at the BAFTA Awards, Best Foreign Film at the David di Donatello Awards, and the Elvira Notari Prize at the Venice Film Festival. The film, whose popularity has also been attributed to helping Chinese tourism, was later adapted into an acclaimed ballet of the same title by the National Ballet of China, which was also directed by Zhang.
The following years saw Zhang take home the Best Foreign Film award from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics (1993), the Most Popular Film award from the Vancouver International Film Festival (1992), and the Golden Lion award from the Venice Film Festival (1992) for his outstanding directing work in the comedy-drama film "Qiu Ju da guan si" (1992; aka "The Story of Qiu Ju"). The film-festival hit also stars Gong Li as the titular tenacious peasant farmer determined to right a wrong done to her husband.
After becoming a member of the jury at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1993, Zhang directed his next film, "Huozhe" (1994; aka "To Live"), a big screen version of Wei Lu's novel of the same name starring Ge You and Gong Li. It became the first Chinese film that had its foreign distribution rights pre-sold, but because of its satirical portrayal of various policies and campaigns of the Communist government, the film was banned in mainland China. However, it didn't stop the film from winning awards at BAFTA and the Cannes Film Festival.
Zhang received the Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review and the Vision in Film Award from the Hawaii International Film Festival in 1995. That same year, he directed Gong Li in his crime drama film set in the criminal underworld of 1930s Shanghai, "Yao a yao yao dao waipo qiao" (aka "Shanghai Triad"), which won the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. He also collaborated with 40 other international film directors to direct 52-second short films using a restored Lumiere camera invented by the pioneer filmmakers, the Lumiere brothers, which resulted in the documentary "Lumière et compagnie" (aka "Lumière and Company").
In 1997, Zhang made his debut as an opera director with the production of "Turandot" at the Teatro Comunale in Florence, Italy, for which he reportedly became the first Chinese director to helm an Italian opera production. Also that year, he directed a dark comedy based on the novel by Ping Shu about a young bookseller in love in 1990s Beijing, "You hua hao hao shuo" (aka "Keep Cool"), which was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Fest and a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Zhang wrapped up the decade by directing "Wo de fu qin mu qin" (aka "The Road Home"), a romantic drama based on the novel by Shi Bao. The film, which was released in the United States in 2001, won the World Cinema award at the Sundance Film Festival, the Best International Feature Film award at the Florida Film Festival, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival. It also won Zhang the Best Director award at the Golden Rooster Awards.
Meanwhile, Zhang also earned critical praise for directing "Yi ge dou bu neng shao" (aka "Not One Less"), which was released theatrically in the United States in 2000. A look at contemporary China as seen through the story of a young schoolteacher and an unruly student, the drama/comedy film, referred by Zhang himself as "one of my best films," garnered critical acclaim and won ten international film awards, including awards at The Golden Rooster Awards, the São Paulo International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival (including the Golden Lion award for Best Picture).
Entering the new millennium, Zhang helmed "Xingfu shiguang" (aka "Happy Times"), a film based on the novel "Shifu: You'll Do Anything for a Laugh" by Mo Yan. It became the official selection at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival and won a FIPRESCI Prize and a Silver Spike at the Valladolid International Film Festival.
In 2002, Zhang directed Jet Li in his martial arts film loosely based on the legendary Jing Ke, "Ying xiong" (aka "Hero"), which also featured Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi. The most expensive and the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese cinema history, the film, who’s American market distribution rights were owned by Miramax, was finally presented by Quentin Tarantino to American theaters on August 27, 2004. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards and won Best Cinematography from the New York Film Critics Circle and from the Chicago Film Critics Association (alongside Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator"). It also won Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film from the Online Film Critics Society. Additionally, it received seven Hong Kong Film Awards in 2003, including Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound. Zhang himself won the Alfred Bauer Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Best Director award from the National Society of Film Critics.
Zhang made another martial arts film, but this time more of a love story, with "Shi mian mai fu" (aka "House of Flying Daggers"), starring Zhang Ziyi and Andy Lau. Using strong colors that have become Zhang's signature, the film opened to a limited release within the United States on December 3, 2004, and received a warm welcome from film critics in the U.S. despite the fairly heavy criticism of the critics in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. It was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards and won Zhang a Best Director award from the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC) and the Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC).
"Qian li zou dan qi" (aka "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles"), Zhang's Japanese drama film starring Ken Takakura, premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival on October 22, 2005, and was released in China on December 22, 2005. It won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor (Ken Takakura) at the 2006 San Diego Film Critics Society Awards as well as Best Asian Film at the 2007 Hong Kong Film Awards.
In 2006, Zhang directed Gong Li again in the historical epic drama film "Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia" (aka "Curse of the Golden Flower"), which he also scripted. The most expensive Chinese film to date (with a budget of $45 million), the film, based on Cao Yu's 1934 play "Thunderstorm" but set in the imperial court of the Later Tang Dynasty, was chosen as China's entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for the year 2006. However, it was not nominated in that category although it did receive a Costume Design nomination. It also earned Zhang a Best Director nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Zhang's most recent work is "Chacun son cinéma ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s'éteint et que le film commence" (2007; aka "To Each His Own Cinema"), a French anthology film commissioned for the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. For the project, Zhang joined 35 acclaimed international directors from 5 continents and 25 different countries to make 3-minute length short films about their feeling about the cinema.
"For thousands of years, there's been a tradition of teaching us in China to think in terms of the collective experience, so we are rarely able to act in accordance with personal desires or emotions. Now young people, especially under Western influences, have become much more interested in themselves and their own values." Yimou Zhang
A jury president of the 2007 Venice Film Festival and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Zhang now serves as chief director of opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. He recently broke silence on Steven Spielberg's decision to quit as artistic director to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, calling his resignation "quite regrettable." The two acclaimed filmmakers were orchestrating the opening and closing ceremonies for the August 2008 sports gala, before the legendary American director announced in February 2008 that he had decided to quit the event, citing concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, which he linked to the Chinese government.
"The objective of any form of art is not political. I had no political intentions. I am not interested in politics." Yimou Zhang
National Society of Film Critics (NSFC): Best Director, "Ying xiong," 2005
National Society of Film Critics (NSFC): Best Director, "Shi mian mai fu," 2005
Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC): Best Director, "Shi mian mai fu," 2004
Berlin International Film Festival: Alfred Bauer Award, "Ying xiong," 2003
Valladolid International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize; Silver Spike, "Xingfu shiguang," 2002
Sundance Film Festival: World Cinema, "Wo de fu qin mu qin," 2001
Florida Film Festival: Best International Feature Film, "Wo de fu qin mu qin," 2001
Berlin International Film Festival: Prize of the Ecumenical Jury; Silver Berlin Bear, "Wo de fu qin mu qin," 2000
Golden Rooster: Best Director, "Wo de fu qin mu qin," 2000
Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion; Laterna Magica Prize; Sergio Trasatti Award, UNICEF Award, "Yi ge dou bu neng shao," 1999
São Paulo International Film Festival: Best Feature, "Yi ge dou bu neng shao," 1999
Golden Rooster: Best Director, "Yi ge dou bu neng shao," 1999
Cannes Film Festival: Technical Grand Prize, "Yao a yao yao dao waipo qiao," 1995
National Board of Review: Freedom of Expression Award, 1995
Hawaii International Film Festival: Vision in Film Award, 1995
BAFTA: Best Film not in the English Language, "Huozhe," 1995
Cannes Film Festival: Grand Prize of the Jury; Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, "Huozhe," 1994
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics: Best Foreign Film, "Qiu Ju da guan si," 1993
BAFTA: Best Film not in the English Language, "Da hong deng long gao gao gua," 1993
David di Donatello: Best Foreign Film, "Da hong deng long gao gao gua," 1992
Vancouver International Film Festival: Most Popular Film, "Qiu Ju da guan si," 1992
Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion, "Qiu Ju da guan si," 1992
Venice Film Festival: Elvira Notari Prize, "Da hong deng long gao gao gua," 1991
Valladolid International Film Festival: Golden Spike, "Ju Dou," 1990
Berlin International Film Festival: Golden Berlin Bear, "Hong gao liang," 1988
Golden Rooster: Best Actor, "Lao jing," 1988
Tokyo International Film Festival: Best Actor Award, "Lao jing," 1987