Director Yimou Zhang is credited with helping to bring Chinese cinemas to Europe and the US. If you’re not familiar with Zhang’s cinematic work you then might have seen some of his more theatrical efforts as choreographer for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
His oeuvre is a lush portrayal of Chinese society, culture, tradition and history, often depicting the resilience of Chinese people in the face of hardship and adversity. Against this backdrop, plot lines of revenge, adultery and sacrifice are rife but devoid of their typical aggression. Acts of passion and pride on all levels are shown in a rather poetic light, as if these things are to be expected of humanity when pushed to its limits.
Wuxia (martial arts) heavy films Hero and House of Flying Daggers have always been personal favourites of mine. I had never seen such a sumptuous use of colour in a film before Hero. It may have harked back to Zhang’s earlier work (Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern) but it undeniably portrayed new levels of intensity. Containing all the misfortunes of films like Ju Dou, inspired by wu-xing colour theory and paired with a mournful and traditional Chinese score, Hero remains a feast for the senses.
In many of Yimou Zhang’s films, futures are sadly cut short and will leave you with a sense of longing for all things unrequited and yet simultaneously with a melancholy acceptance for the inevitability of tragedy.
I feel that some of Zhang’s more recent work, following House of Flying Daggers, has not necessarily felt as ‘authentic’ as his earlier films but this could simply be down to a continuing departure from his initial neorealist style. Nonetheless, I am excited to see his next film Great Wall; a fantasy epic about the mysterious reasons why the Great Wall of China was built, which is due out in cinemas in 2016. Perhaps returning to a plot line of this scale will see his creativity unbound and a complete return to form.
Check out the full list in our full A to Z of Film Directors.