Archive for the Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 Category

Zhang Yimou facing fine of US$1.15m for extra births [People’s Daily / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in China, Family planning policy, Law enforcement, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 on January 7, 2014 by Zuo Shou / 左手

By Gao Changxin (China Daily)
December 30, 2013

The Chinese director who dazzled the world in 2008 with his Beijing Olympics opening ceremony apologized on Sunday for violating the nation’s family planning policy.

Zhang Yimou, 62, who also directed the blockbusters Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers, admitted in a video interview with Xinhua News Agency that he had “done wrong” and that the incident has harmed his reputation “tremendously”.

“I have done wrong and won’t blame anyone else. I will cooperate fully with family planning authorities in the city of Wuxi,” Zhang told Xinhua.

The media interview was Zhang’s first since online reports surfaced in May accusing him of having fathered at least seven children with multiple women and saying he faced a fine of 160 million yuan ($26.4 million).

In November, the family planning authority in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, where Zhang’s children’s hukou — household registration — is located, said they were unable to find Zhang. Meanwhile, the authority faced growing public pressure over “fairness” in handling Zhang’s case.

On Dec 1, in a statement published through his studio, Zhang acknowledged that he and his wife, Chen Ting, gave birth to two sons and a daughter, and he is willing to pay fines.

On Dec 10, Yao Hongwen, spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, promised that Zhang will receive no favoritism, adding that “nobody is entitled to give birth to more children than allowed”.

Zhang, who has a daughter with his ex-wife, told Xinhua that he had three children with Chen because he followed his father’s wish to have sons to continue the family bloodline.

Zhang’s three children with Chen were born in 2001, 2004 and 2006 in Beijing, before the couple married in 2011. Chen told Xinhua that they fell in love in 1999 and were not willing to register as husband and wife for fear of media exposure.

Chen denied media reports that Zhang had at least seven children with multiple women, calling it a rumor “that has hurt the family”.

The incident, coupled with Zhang’s aversion of the media, stirred a heated discussion online. At the center of the discussion was whether it is fair for wealthy citizens to buy their way out of the one-child policy.

A recent online survey by ynet.com found that about 70 percent of people are unsatisfied with Zhang’s apology, saying it is unfair that Zhang can buy privileges with money.

Zhou Haiwang, deputy director of the Institute of Population and Development under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily that the family planning policy doesn’t favor the rich because the fine is set based on personal income.

Xinhua cited lawyers representing the Wuxi authority and Zhang on Sunday as saying Zhang might need to pay a fine of at least 7 million yuan.

Zhou added that Zhang’s high-profile case serves as a warning to the rest of the country.

“When people see the government gets tough on celebrities, they know they can’t get away with it,” he said.

On Saturday, the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, formally allowed couples in which either parent has no siblings to have two children, as the nation faces looming demographic challenges, including a rapidly growing elderly population, a shrinking labor force and male-female imbalance.

Article link: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90882/8498764.html

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“The Flowers of War” 《金陵十三钗》 — Sweet and Sour Cinema Exclusive Review [Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in China, Japan, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Sweet & Sour Cinema exclusive flim review, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 on February 5, 2012 by Zuo Shou / 左手

“The Flowers of War” 《金陵十三钗》 — Sweet and Sour Socialism Exclusive Review
by Zuo Shou

2012 Feb 5

The Flowers of War
Directed by Zhang Yimou 张艺谋

Starring: Christian Bale, Ni Ni 倪妮, Tong Dawei 佟大为

Viewed 2011 December, in Chinese mainland theatre with English and Mandarin subtitles

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“In the dark history of human atrocity, one savage, inhuman chapter that is always missing from the textbooks in courses about the Pacific conflict in World War II [sic] is the Rape of Nanking. Except for the occasional documentary, this harrowing event has gone largely unexplored by filmmakers, yet it surges with historic value and the elements of heartbreaking drama. Ask history majors about what the Japanese did to…civilians…and all they know is Pearl Harbor, Bataan and the Death March. Now the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou has made a valiant and compassionate effort to enlighten the ignorant…

Rex Reed – “From the Withered Tree, ‘Flowers of War’ Bloom” (1)
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Renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s latest offering, centering on the Second Sino-Japanese War invasion and genocide in Nanking (Nanjing), has been released amidst a burst of controversy. (I’ll address the controversies in a projected separate post’s analysis of the film’s defamation by certain corporate media.)

Zhang Yimou’s fictionalized take on the historic “Rape of Nanking” is an unconventional yet dramatically successful melding of the war genre and genocide melodrama. The film has been wrongly touted as an “epic” — perhaps due to the 140-minute length. What Yimou has rendered is actually a more minutely proportioned picture of resistance and redemption against the backdrop of an abhorrent episode of Japanese aggression in China, reflecting the scale of the novella which is the film’s basis.

I have had a qualified respect for Zhang Yimou, whom I’ve previously viewed as an intermittently brilliant film director whose cinematography at least is rarely less than formally perfect. My major criticism of his pre-2008 film work (with which I am only partially familiar), is that his films present a sophisticated superficial beauty somewhat alienated by an art-house chill: a lack of dramatic balance and warm humanity. His past films in particular had a glaring lack of comedic sense, with characters more like manipulated figures in an art gallery than dramatically living and breathing creatures. His wuxia action films, while framing characters exquisitely in martial motion, seemingly lacked the visceral “emotional content” that Bruce Lee strove for as an essential element of cinematic fighting in his own films.

Perhaps this is why Zhang’s true artistic masterpiece at this time is arguably not any film but the epic Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies, where his stadium-size visionary gifts were able to manifest in a sweeping gorgeousness almost wholly unencumbered by individual characterization.

After that gigantic presentation, Zhang changed up his cinematic style post-Olympics by radically scaling back the scope of his two subsequent films. The black comedy “A Simple Noodle Story” / aka “Legend of the 3 Guns” 《三枪拍案惊奇》 — released in the West as “A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop” — was a Sinicized remake of the Coen Brothers’ cinematic calling card “Blood Simple”. It met with negativity from foreign critics and underwhelmed the majority of Chinese audiences, who perhaps had sky-high expectations after Zhang’s stupendous Olympics triumph. I found it manifestly more memorable, and funnier, than its minor source material and enjoyed seeing Zhang work against expectations.

He followed that up with 2010’s “Under the Hawthorn Tree”, 《山楂树之恋》 which was a relatively twee but evocative “Love Story”-style tearjerker set in the Cultural Revolution. Given very good marks overall from the Chinese film-going public, it was basically ignored by Western critics, perhaps either through lack of international distribution or because it did not portray the Cultural Revolution period horribly enough to suit Western prejudicial tastes.

Zhang’s “The Flowers of War” production was internationally hyped as the most expensive Chinese film production in history (with an approximately $90 million budget) and interest was heightened domestically and abroad with the casting of Christian Bale as male lead (who is erroneously credited in some places as “the first Western actor to star in a Chinese film”.) Initially receiving mixed reviews from Chinese viewers, it’s come to be met with general approval by audiences (receiving an 8.1 rating out of 10 on the public Chinese website Mtime.com) and will end up as one of the two top grossing Chinese films of all time.

I was originally intending to skip the film for various reasons. I’m not a fan of Christian Bale. I was very impressed, yet harrowed, by Lv Chuan’s “City of Life and Death” which I had re-viewed recently, and I really didn’t want to cinematically relive the Rape of Nanking any time soon. I was also rather put off by the commercial of the film that was running on the Chinese TV film channel, in particular a short sequence that seemed to be showing the graphic rape of a young Chinese by a Japanese soldier. However, it was the slew of derogatory news articles and reviews from Western sources coinciding with the release of the film in China, and Bale’s subsequent ill-considered personal publicity stunt orchestrated with CNN regarding a US-government-supported Chinese “activist” under house arrest, which made me want to see what all the fuss was about.

What I discovered was a wartime tale focused on sacrifice and martyrdom that, contrary to expectations, worked exceedingly well as it generated consistent dramatic energy through utilizing a rich spectrum of human response to atrocity. I found one its strengths to be a dynamic freshness that came from the risks Zhang took in pushing the dramatic credibility of the characters to extremes, and in bringing a sophisticated theatricality to the proceedings that has become almost extinct in this age of increasingly de-humanized blockbusters.

The battle scenes between the invading Japanese and the guerrilla-style resistance by remnants of the Chinese Nationalist soldiers in Nanjing which commence the film were extremely thrilling and showed the technical expertise of the (presumably expensive) foreign component of the crew; the sound design of these sequences was particularly outstanding. Featured in these scenes is the stoic and brave Tong Dawei, whose heroism elevates him to the level of a kind of Chinese Sampson.

Bale carries off his role well as a traumatized alcoholic scoundrel whose inner wellsprings of redemption are catalyzed by Japanese aggression against schoolgirls holed up in the tenuous refuge of a Nanking cathedral. Elsewhere I’ve read his character being defined as the film’s “Western Identification figure”; which is not untrue but also not a comprehensive definition. It should be noted that he is not “the hero” of the film, which is a complaint of those who justly dislike the cinematic stereotype of a single-handed “Western savior” of hapless foreigners (of which Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler in “Schindler’s List” is an apotheosis), although Bale’s character’s behavior is, at times, heroic.

The real “heros” are actually “heroines” in the film — the 13 prostitutes alluded to in the film’s Chinese title who, for the sake of repaying a moral debt, stand to suffer a fate worse than a “fate worse than death” at the hands of some despicable Japanese. Zhang claimed that a fresh aspect he wanted to bring to the oft-told (in China) story of the Nanjing Massacre is a female perspective, and it’s to his credit that he does this without the phony “Girl Power” posing that often passes for feminism in Western culture today, and which would be anachronistic anyway.

Zhang Yimou is famous for introducing previous unknowns in his films that go on to major film careers, the so-called “Mou girls”. So it’s with anticipation that one is presented with Ni Ni, who plays Yu Mo, the prostitutes’ leader. Despite being saddled with the need for her character to speak in broken English, newcomer Ni Ni is at least the dramatic equal of megastar Bale and radiates a poise, intelligence and sensual beauty that is undeniably impressive and promises an auspicious future in acting for her, particularly as she’s reportedly just in her early 20’s (I’d assumed from her demeanor that she was at least 10 years older).

The partial narrator of film is one of the plighted schoolgirls, typically framed as looking out of a cathedral’s stained-glass windows to the war-torn world outside, windows which are eventually pierced by Japanese bullets. She and her classmates represent inexperienced foils to Bale’s initial selfishness, the worldly, bawdy atmosphere of the diva-esque courtesans, and the rampaging amoral Japanese soldiers.

One of the ingenious things about the film is its sophisticated cinematic representation of sexuality, between the ugliness of rape, the attraction-repulsion of the sex trade, and essential human love. In particular Zhang is deploying realistic depictions of sexuality alongside elements of cinematically poetic neo-Freudian sexuality that has been lost in movies since Luis Buñuel passed on, for in “The Flowers of War” the virginal and post-virginal become creatively transposed. This is part of the success of the film, whereby the stereotypically dichotomous (some might say “virgin-whore”, although I don’t know if that’s an exclusively Western construct) male-originated mentality is obliterated and perhaps the epidemic sexual trauma of the Rape of Nanking can witness some healing through artistic creativity.

I have yet to find a critic who pointed out a particularly brilliant part of the film’s dramatization, which is the subtle contrast of two kinds of martyrs: the cathedral set evokes the passive martyrdom of Christ, who legendarily redeems humanity; the Christian ‘sanctuary’ of Nanjing is background to the ultimate fate of the hookers, whose (off-screen) martyrdom is contrastingly active; i.e. all 13 of them resolve to face death at the hands of the Japanese…armed. Note that both Christ’s and the Nanjing martyrs’ dramas happen in the context of imperial occupation…

The film is not without flaws. After some brilliant moments and the high gear of the initial street combat sequences, the film’s drama settles down in the cathedral and becomes a little set-bound, although never less than compelling on multiple levels. The combat sequences are so exciting and vividly realized, but are basically wrapped up less than one-half into the film. This left me wishing there was more “War” and a bit less “Flowers”. There’s also a sequence about a couple of prostitutes venturing out of the relative sanctuary of the cathedral on a foolhardy mission that is as stupid as any similar scenario from a slasher movie, and was a good excuse to go to the WC (the equivalent of looking away from the screen, perhaps). It’s also a bit of a head-scratcher as to where the huge budget went to; while the production design of a desolated Nanjing is never less than convincing, the comparatively large amount of time spent in the cathedral set leads one to assume the salary of Bale and the foreign technical staff contributions, particularly for the battle special effects, constituted a huge portion of the production cost.

However, these individual criticisms do not undermine the copious rewards for the viewer of the film. I had previously considered Lv’s “City of Life and Death” as the unsurpassable filmic representation of the Nanjing Massacre. However, in retrospect, that film’s intellectual art-house style of black and white bleakness and catalogue of horrors, however artfully presented, is signally lacking emotional catharsis — which mutes the characters’ acts of humanity and sacrifice. What Zhang has presented is more pitched to the masses; a blazingly unique and maturely heart-felt perspective of the Nanjing Massacre which dramatically amplifies the humanity in contrast to the inhumanity.

Zhang has said that his film is ultimately about peace, and I think it has much to teach us in light of serial genocides (usually overtly or indirectly sponsored by the US) which have continued globally since World War II, despite whitewashings and historical falsifications that linger and are unconsciously woven into the social fabric of the Western world and its client states. In some ways it holds up a exposing mirror to the ordeals of civilians which are the outcome of horrific wars of the 21st Century.

But mainly “The Flowers of War” is a brilliant symbolic testament to the Chinese victory over the Japanese in the 20th Century. Through the thrills and tears elicited by the art of Zhang and his cast, it’s shown that victims and survivors can turn the devastating and shameful experiences of wars of aggression into the blooming of a more sublime destiny. The Chinese can — perhaps they have — overcome the Nanjing Massacre. Though there was and is unbearable and unforgettable mass suffering at the hands of foreign aggressors, victory has come through the deep human love that conquers evil through acts of resistance and martyrdom. The future of that exponentially tragic historic incident is now: the New China which is the phoenix rising from the ashes of the Nanking Massacre, and the peace enjoyed by current (and hopefully future) generations of Chinese.

This film has literally not been out of my thoughts since I have seen it, in a way that is quite unprecedented in a life of cinema-going. In contemplating it I have not ceased to discern new perspectives and facets to the work. I think this is the definition of a classic. From my perspective it’s at least Zhang’s best film yet.

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(1) http://www.observer.com/2012/01/flowers-of-war-review-rex-reed-ni-ni-christian-bal/?show=print

“Flowers of War” widened US release brought forward to January 2012 [Film Business Asia / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in Sweet & Sour Cinema, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 on January 16, 2012 by Zuo Shou / 左手

By Patrick Frater

Thu, 12 January 2012
– Distribution News –

Wrekin Hill Entertainment has brought forward the widening of its North American release of Chinese blockbuster The Flowers of War [金陵十三釵].

The Christian BALE-starring film, which is China’s contender in the foreign-language Oscar category, will now be opened in 13 American cities on 20 Jan 2012.

Flowers had a restricted platform release in three cinemas in Los Angeles and San Francisco at the end of December in order to qualify in other Oscars categories.

But distributors Wrekin Hill had previously announced 9 March – after the Oscars ceremony on 26 Feb 2012 — as the date for widening the release campaign.

The new date now sets the 13 city release before the awards and before the nominations are announced on 24 Jan 2012.

The film has also been nominated for a Golden Globe as best foreign language film.

Article link: http://www.filmbiz.asia/news/flowers-us-release-brought-forward

“War film chills Chinese audiences” – Zhang Yimou’s ‘The Flowers of War’ released [Xinhua / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in Beijing, China, Japan, Sweet & Sour Cinema, World War II, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 on December 18, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

After 2 days of release, the film is rated 8.0 out of 10 on the Chinese audience-review website Mtime.com – Zuo Shou

BEIJING, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) — Huang rushed out of the screening room the moment a new Nanking Massacre-themed film directed by Zhang Yimou ended.

“I shivered at scenes of atrocious violence and maltreatment in the massacre,” the 50-plus year old woman said. “I will not watch any film of its kind again.”

The Flowers of War hit screens in Beijing Thursday evening. Set in Nanjing, known as Nanking at the time of the city’s occupation by Japanese troops in 1937, it tells the story of a group of prostitutes risking their lives to save 13 schoolgirls forced into prostitution by the Japanese army.

“I feel devastated watching the film,” a woman surnamed Wu choked, with tears [on] her face. “I hope there will never be wars.”

As of 6 p.m. Friday, about 1,600 viewers had flooded into the Capital Cinema in Beijing for the film, according to Yu Chao, deputy general manager of the cinema. But some wished they had not come.

“It brought me back to a history that I am most reluctant to reconnect with. The Nanjing Massacre is the wound of the Chinese nation,” Huang said, adding she turned away from many of the film’s scenes of violence.

A viewer named Shen Yang believed the Massacre “should not be forgotten, and neither should it be reviewed much. Sometimes, it is too heavy to look back.”

Chen Shan, a professor with the Beijing Film Academy, said that viewers’ distress after watching The Flowers of War is the best proof that history has been faithfully recaptured.

Meanwhile, viewers acknowledged that the film successfully displays human nature in time of turbulence.

“The film has truly illustrated the complexity of human nature by unveiling both selfish and selfless sides,” said a viewer named Gao Xiayang.

There are moments when prostitutes risk their lives to save schoolgirls, and other moments when they stand back in fear, Gao said.

Speaking at the film’s premiere, Liu Heng, who wrote the screenplay, said, “The moral of the film is that humanity’s goodness can defeat evil. Goodness is the only way out for mankind.”

Director Zhang said that it is a character-driven project, and what distinguishes it from previous films depicting the Nanjing Massacre is that it glorifies the most beautiful side of humanity by showing characters’ decisions in the face of life and death.

“The beauty of humanity is love and redemption,” Zhang said.

The starring presence of Hollywood’s Christian Bale, who won a best supporting Oscar for his role in The Fighter, has won praise from the audience.

“Different from Zhang’s other projects characterized by Chinese elements, this movie is very international, with a lot of Western symbols like churches,” said Gao Xiayang, adding all this will help the film win over international audiences.

The Flowers of War is not the first Chinese film to address the Nanking Massacre. …[“}City of Life and Death[“], a 2009 film directed by Lu Chuan also depicted the battle of Nanking. The movie became a box-office success and was released abroad.

Edited by Zuo Shou

Article link: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/entertainment/2011-12/17/c_131311470.htm

Zhang Yimou’s “Flowers of War”, first trailer (w/ Eng. subtitles) / 金陵十三钗 先行版预告片 [Mtime.com / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in Sweet & Sour Cinema, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 on November 26, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

Trailer link: http://movie.mtime.com/118999/trailer/35445.html

Slated for release mid-December 2011 in China; there is a US distributor, but no release date there as of yet. – Zuo Shou

China picks Zhang Yimou’s “The Flowers of War” for Oscar competition [Film Business Asia / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in Sweet & Sour Cinema, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 on September 30, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

By Patrick Frater and Stephen Cremin

Sat, 24 September 2011

* Excerpted *

China has made the widely-anticipated and potentially controversial decision to submit ZHANG Yimou 張藝謀’s The Flowers of War 金陵十三釵 as its contender for the foreign-language Oscar…

…Inspired by true events in 1937 Nanjing, the film stars Christian Bale as an American who pretends to be a priest to hold the middle ground between the occupying Japanese army, the city’s besieged citizens, and two groups of schoolgirls and prostitutes who occupy a cathedral.

[The film is s]cheduled to open in China on 16 Dec 2011…sources close to the film said that, although they have not yet signed a distributor, the producers were aiming for a North American theatrical release timed as close as possible to the Chinese release in mid-December.

If it is given a seven day release in Los Angeles County before the end of December, it would open Flowers to potential nominations in other categories in 2011. If it misses that deadline, Flowers will not be eligible in subsequent years.

Five films by Zhang have previously been submitted to the foreign-language category: Red Sorghum 紅高粱 (1987), Ju Dou 菊豆 (1990), Hero 英雄 (2002), House of Flying Daggers 十面埋伏 (2004) and Curse Of The Golden Flower 滿城盡帶黃金甲 (2006).

Edited by Zuo Shou; original article title “China picks Flowers for Oscar”

Full article link: http://www.filmbiz.asia/news/china-picks-flowers-for-oscar

Stills of Jet Li in “The Sorcerer and the White Snake” (aka “It’s Love”) released; behind-the-scenes trailer / 《白蛇传说》曝光新剧照 [Mtime.com / CRIEnglish.com / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in Jet Li 李连杰, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 on July 1, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

See the stills here: http://news.mtime.com/2011/07/01/1463646.html

Trailer from 1/2011 (which doesn’t show any stars, just a backstage view of filming): http://movie.mtime.com/132429/trailer/30083.html

“Jet Li Plays Sorcerer in ‘White Snake'”

2011-07-01 / CRIENGLISH.com / Web Editor: Xie Tingting

What will Jet Li look like as the scrupulous monk Fahai in the Chinese Legend of the White Snake?

A still photo [see link at top of post] has been released to give audiences a glimpse of him in the new film, “The Sorcerer and the White Snake”. The picture shows Li donning a white gown, with prayer beads around his neck and in his hand. He is accompanied by actor Wen Zhang, who plays Fahai’s disciple, Nengren.

This is the second cooperation between Jet Li and Wen Zhang, after they portrayed a touching father-son relationship in last year’s film, “Ocean Heaven”.

“The Sorcerer and the White Snake” is inspired by the Legend of the White Snake which praises a brave love between the snake spirit, Bai Suzhen, and her human husband, Xu Xian.

The sorcerer Fahai is portrayed in the tale as a monk who believes every demon is evil. His belief leads him to destroy the family of Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian.

In the film, Huang Shengyi [Eva Huang] plays the white snake, while Raymond Lam plays Xu Xian.

Charlene Choi plays the green snake, the white snake’s confidante.

Other stills highlight the romance between the green snake and Nengren, whose body constantly changes between devil and human.

“The Sorcerer and the White Snake” is directed by Ching Siu-tung, who is known as the action choreographer for Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” and “Curse of the Golden Flower”.

“White Snake” is currently in its post-production stages, with a release scheduled for the end of this year [in China it’s currently slated for September release].

CRIEnglish article link: http://english.cri.cn/6666/2011/07/01/1261s645778.htm