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Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimour 5th generation chinese film directorZhang Yimou – tʂɑ́ŋ îmɤ̌ʊ̯ – is a significant filmmaker of the fifth generation of Chinese directors, all of whom began directing movies in the late 1980s. These post eighties directors’ works were directly responsive to the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the social upheaval it brought.

Other notable fifth generation directors are Chen Kaige and Tian Zhangzhuang. The films of this generation brought forth depictions of the suffering of ordinary Chinese people in the 20th Century.

The fifth generation deconstruct China as a nation, setting themselves apart from previous generations of directors who focused on China’s survival, portraying and lauding class heroism.

A relaxation of policies adopted in the Cultural Revolution allowed the Beijing Film Academy to reopen in 1978 Zhang and other fifth generation directors graduated from there in 1982, heralding a cultural revival ushered in by their more challenging works.

Yimou was born to a ‘bad’ class background, and had many hurdles to jump on his way to greatness. The legend is that he sold his own blood to buy his first camera. He certainly laboured in farms and factories during the Cultural Revolution, leaving him without the qualifications he needed to gain a place at film school. He made a personal appeal to the Ministry of Culture with an impressive portfolio of photographs, and they relented and allowed him entry.

Zhang Yimou Early Films

Zhang’s early films had a gritty realism that set them apart from Hollywood glitz. His experience of grass roots China and the dominance of class struggle as a cultural narrative provided him with plenty of stories to tell, and cultural narratives to deconstruct.

His first film as director – Red Sorghum – has the second Chinese-Japanese war as it’s backdrop, and provoked much critical acclaim both in China and internationally. It marked the start of his ongoing working relationship with actress Gong Li, and a decade of films fascinated by Chinese self and identity. The depiction of female orgasm, desire, raw sexuality and ecstasy in this film were erotic firsts for Chinese cinema.

Continuing the themes of sexual power and the spectacle of imagery of the female body, another period drama – Judou – emerged. Also starred Gong Li in a leading role as a woman married to a brutal dye mill owner in rural China.

Raise the Red Lantern followed the story of a concubine in the household of a wealthy family compound in the 1920s. This was a true breakthrough to international audiences who loved the seductive, forbidden lives of the film’s character.

To Live is set in the period between the Chinese Civil war and ‘The Great Leap Forward’ Cultural Revolution period.

Zhang Yimou Style & Message

Zhang’s films follow the personal lives of characters living through the struggle and hardships of interesting historical and political eras of China.

A kind of ordinary heroism amidst confounding and oppressive circumstances runs through these early movies about modern China. His strong use of colour as a cinematic device emerged from the start of his filmmaking and has remained as Yimou’s style.

Themes of liberation through the desire and agency of strong female characters are rife in Yimou’s films. Conflict and power struggles between the genders and generations serve as symbolic catalysts for wider social change.

Zhang exposed the patriarchy of The Party, and highlighted it’s similarities to the previous oppressive and patriarchal bondage of Confuscian doctrine and capitalist enslavement.

The conflict between older conservative masculinity and younger rebellious masculinity is represented via many characters in Yimou’s films who are the sons of patrilocal, patrilineal and patriarchal fathers. This heritage is objectionable to Zhang and his younger male characters who see the brutality and rigidity of both historical and modern China.

Bringing dream and nightmare to stark realism, Zhang’s fictional portrayals of China through the ages defamiliarise, subvert and shock. With the lavish colourful beauty of his cinematography he seduces audiences while challenging them.

Zhang Yimou Martial Arts & Wuxia Films

Emotive and beautiful, Yimou’s style remained even as he moved into martial arts wuxi films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. His most recent film The Great Wall is an epic historical film starring Matt Damon.

In a statement to Entertainment Weekly about the ambitious film, to be released internationally in 2017:  “For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tentpole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.”

Zhang Yimou Filmography

2016/17 The Great Wall
2015 Lady of the Dynasty (co-director)
2014 Stories Through 180 Lenses (Documentary short)
2014 Coming Home
2011 The Flowers of War
2011 Zhong Guo tie lu (TV Short documentary)
2010 Under the Hawthorn Tree
2009 A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
2008 The Bright Red Lanterns Hung High
2008 Beijing Games of the XXIX Olympiad – Closing Ceremony
2008 Beijing 2008 Olympics Games Opening Ceremony (TV Movie) (lead director)
2007 To Each His Own Cinema (segment “En Regardant le Film”)
2006 Curse of the Golden Flower
2005 Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
2004 House of Flying Daggers
2004 Making of House of Flying Daggers (Short)
2002 Hero
2000 Happy Times
1999 The Road Home
1999 Not One Less
1997 Keep Cool
1995 Lumière and Company (Documentary)
1995 Shanghai Triad
1994 To Live
1994 A Soul Haunted by Painting (supervising director)
1992 The Story of Qiu Ju
1991 Raise the Red Lantern
1990 Ju Dou
1989 Dai hao mei zhou bao
1987 Red Sorghum

Zhang Yimou Major Awards

BAFTA Awards
2005     Nominated
BAFTA Film Award Best Film not in the English Language Shi mian mai fu (2004)
Shared with:William Kong

1995     Won
BAFTA Film Award Best Film not in the English Language Huo zhe (1994)
Shared with:Fu-Sheng Chiu

1993     Won
BAFTA Film Award Best Film not in the English LanguageDa hong deng long gao gao gua (1991)
Shared with:Fu-Sheng Chiu

AFI Fest
1997     Nominated
Grand Jury Prize You hua hao hao shuo (1997)

Art Directors Guild
2005     Won
Contribution to Cinematic Imagery Award

Asia Pacific Screen Awards
2011     Won
FIAPF Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film

Asian Film Awards
2012     Nominated
Asian Film Award Best Director Jin ling shi san chai (2011)

2010     Won
Outstanding Contribution to Asian Cinema

Berlin International Film Festival
2010     Nominated
Golden Berlin Bear San qiang pai an jing qi (2009)

2003     Won
Alfred Bauer Award Ying xiong (2002)

Nominated
Golden Berlin Bear Ying xiong (2002)

2000     Won
Silver Berlin Bear Jury Grand Prix Wo de fu qin mu qin (1999)

Won
Prize of the Ecumenical Jury     Competition Wo de fu qin mu qin (1999)

Nominated
Golden Berlin Bear Wo de fu qin mu qin (1999)

1988     Won
Golden Berlin Bear Hong gao liang (1987)

Cannes Film Festival
1995     Won
Technical Grand Prize     Yao a yao, yao dao wai po qiao (1995)
Nominated
Palme d’Or Yao a yao, yao dao wai po qiao (1995)

1994     Won
Grand Prize of the Jury Huo zhe (1994)
Tied with Burnt by the Sun (1994).

Won
Prize of the Ecumenical Jury     Huo zhe (1994)
Tied with Burnt by the Sun (1994).

Nominated
Palme d’Or Huo zhe (1994)

1990     Nominated
Palme d’Or Ju Dou (1990)

China Film Director’s Guild Awards
2015     Nominated
China Film Directors’ Guild Award Best Director Gui lai (2014)

European Film Awards
2004     Nominated
Screen International Award Shi mian mai fu (2004) China

1999     Nominated
Screen International Award Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999) China

Golden Rooster Awards
2004     Nominated
Golden Rooster     Best Director Shi mian mai fu (2004)

2003     Won
Golden Rooster Best Director Ying xiong (2002)

2000     Won
Golden Rooster Best Director Wo de fu qin mu qin (1999)
Tied with Guoxing Chen for Roaring Across the Horizon (1999).

1999     Won Golden Rooster Best Director Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999)

1988     Won
Golden Rooster     Best Actor Lao jing (1986)
Nominated
Golden Rooster Best DirectorHong gao liang (1987)

Hong Kong Film Awards
2007     Nominated
Hong Kong Film Award Best Director Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia (2006)

2003     Nominated
Hong Kong Film Award Best Director Ying xiong (2002)
Best Screenplay Ying xiong (2002) Shared with: Bin Wang, Feng Li

London Critics Circle Film Awards
2005     Nominated
ALFS Award Director of the Year Shi mian mai fu (2004)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards
2004     Won – LAFCA Award Best Foreign Film Shi mian mai fu (2004) China/Hong Kong.

1992     2nd place
LAFCA Award Best Foreign Film Da hong deng long gao gao gua (1991)

National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA
2005     Won
NSFC Award     Best Director
Ying xiong (2002)
Shi mian mai fu (2004)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards
2004     2nd place
NYFCC Award     Best Director
Shi mian mai fu (2004)

Online Film Critics Society Awards
2005     Nominated
OFCS Award     Best Director
Ying xiong (2002)

Palm Springs International Film Festival
2012     2nd place
Audience Award     Best Narrative Feature
Jin ling shi san chai (2011)
Runner-Up
2000     Won
Career Achievement Award
For producing.

Shanghai Film Critics Awards
1999     Won
Shanghai Film Critics Award     Best Director
Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999)

Sundance Film Festival
2001     Won
Audience Award     World Cinema
Wo de fu qin mu qin (1999)

São Paulo International Film Festival
1999     Won
Audience Award     Best Feature
Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999)

Tokyo International Film Festival
1987     Won
Best Actor Award Lao jing (1986)

Venice Film Festival
1999     Won
Golden Lion Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999)

Won
Laterna Magica Prize Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999)

Won
Sergio Trasatti Award     Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999)

Won
UNICEF Award     Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999)

1997     Nominated
Golden Lion     You hua hao hao shuo (1997)

1992     Won
Golden Lion     Qiu Ju da guan si (1992)

Won
OCIC Award – Honorable Mention     Qiu Ju da guan si (1992)

Won
UNICEF Award     Qiu Ju da guan si (1992)

1991     Won
Silver Lion     Da hong deng long gao gao gua (1991)
Tied with The Fisher King (1991) and J’entends plus la guitare (1991).

Won
Elvira Notari Prize     Da hong deng long gao gao gua (1991)

Won
FIPRESCI Prize     Competition Da hong deng long gao gao gua (1991)

Nominated
Golden Lion     Da hong deng long gao gao gua (1991)

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