Leidy Campo

Scarlet Cheng

Chinese Cinema


Zhang Yimou

After the end of Mao’s death, the Chinese cinema industry flourished since censorship

was slowly diminishing. However, it was challenging to produce films outside the boundaries of

communist ideologies, but thanks to the new generation of directors, the new films were more

attractive and different than the ones from the past. Many movies brought themes such as

oppression, political/social conflicts and criticism towards communism. Zhang Yimou is a

perfect example of how he uses these themes in his films. His themes were controversial and

many of his works were both praised and criticized, and despite the heavy criticism Yimou

received from China; Yimou persevered and continued producing movies that weren’t approve

in mainland china. In his earlier works rather than promoting a communist ideology, he produced

films that illustrated the China he lives and breathes, which shows the reality and difficulties that

communist government brought to the Chinese people. However, critics believe that some of his

recent work is presenting pro-totalitarian ideas and are going against his ideas of his initial work.

Nevertheless, Yimou’s films are a transition from depicting peasant’s life facing difficulties to a

more commercialized production of movies. Throughout the many films that he has directed, his

unique style and controversial themes are often represented in his creations. Yimou’s films stand

out from others works due to his incredible use of color and themes that always makes the

audience wonder if there is a second meaning behind it. Although he has produced many

During the 1950s. it was criminal (1). and during the convulsive tumult of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. was widely acclaimed. while another fled to Taiwan. “his father was an officer in Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Army. during the cultural revolution. and Raise the Red Lantern (1992) are notable movies for this concept. According to Jonathan Crow in Zhang Yimou biography. who was often cast to play roles where a woman was under oppression and living in a male dominant world. In the early 21st century Zhang Yimou took an interest in Wuxia martial art . sensuality. and one of his brothers was accused of being a spy. The movie.” Moreover. Later on. Zhang applied to Beijing’s Film Academy and his entrance to the Academy was almost deny because of age requirement. He graduated as a Cinematographer and worked as a cameraman in Yellow Earth-- directed by Chen Kaige who is part of the fifth generation as well. allowing Zhang Yimou to continue filming historical drama movies with Gong Li.different movies. Yimou expanded and made films that depict the life of peasant people under Mao’s regime called “To Live” (1994. Ju Dou (1990). one needs to learn more about his life and how he became a master on producing films which capture the audience’s attention. Zhang spent his years in forced labor. his family's background was suspect. oppression and “political” issues. Yimou produced several movies where women were sexually repressed his movies illustrated tragic outcomes when these women tried to defy men. his cinematic vision is fairly consistent where he depict strong women. Yimou was born in Xi’an in 1951 with a rough start due family background. Two years after the cultural revolution ended.) On the other hand. For instance. Zhang was able debut as a director in Red Sorghum (1987). In order to understand more about Yimou’s films.

he presents characters who are forced to do things against their will due to old Chinese traditions.which lead him to created one of the highest-grossing films in China called Hero (2002). He directed movies with a similar style like in House of Flying Daggers (2004) and The Curse of the Golden Flower 2006. The beginning and mid part of the movie displays a quiet and happy life at the Sorghum distillery. she wants to be treated as equal and be able to decide for herself. In the first part of the movie. mostly a return to basic biological needs such as eating. her female characters are always strong and determined. This scene is a strong representation of hardship and oppression. the tone of the movie rapidly changes to a chaotic event. defecating. For instance. On the other hand. drinking. The film tells the story of how the narrator’s grandmother and grandfather met and “fell” for each other after the grandfather saves her from a bandit. Japanese people are represented as inhuman when they force a butcher to peel the skin of his boss in front of everyone. In a scene. On the other hand. The film invokes many ideas of Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the carnival. but this lifestyle completely changes to horror and anger after the Japanese invasion. her father forces her to marry and old. Of Zhang’s first films. These films show that Zhang Yimou is a versatile director who enjoys exploring different themes which relate to today’s issues as well. For instance. In addition. . Red Sorghum focuses on China’s old society and human instinct. The “celebration of the carnal” is seen when her savior takes the main character in the deeps of the Sorghum field to consummate their love. According to David Neo in his article Red Sorghum: A Search for Roots states that “Red Sorghum return to grass roots also seems to be a celebration of the carnal. making love and rearing children” (4). Even though she is married to the lord of the house. sick person for money and begins to question her father’s love towards her.

In To Live Zhang’s films moves from domestic issues to a more broad and political concern about recent events. violence. it is concerning since it questions the government’s efforts to improve the life of their people.Zhang uses a reddish color in this film is a symbolic element that invites the viewer to reflect the passion. we follow a Chinese family that goes through several challenges and loses their kids because of the effects of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. moving from small intimate portraits of domestic patriarchal in the pre- communist '20s to epic landscapes addressing the flow and impact of modern Chinese political history”. However. . Since they were afraid that the new government would find out about their past. An example of this is when the family realizes that they need to keep their heads downs and forget about being landlords since they were executing and shaming people for it. but this changes after Zhang makes To Live 1994. they blindly believe that everything will get better and all they need to do is to live despite the adversities. 18). Sadly.On the other hand. but in themselves. The fact that they have to beleive that living in poor conditions is fine. this period condemned wealthy people and was seen as the enemy of the new Chinese society. In the article Chinese filmmakers overcome a wall of opposition written by Patrick McCormick “Filmmaker’s stories has shifted. This film doesn’t seem to take sides with a political view. and struggles against life and the Japanese invasion. The author discusses that the film gives explicit criticism towards official doctrine and authoritarian structures (Par. This film is a perfect example of the tough reality of a period where news rules were affecting the peasants than helping to improve their life. none of them blame their bad luck on the government. In the movie. they decided to frame a certificate that the communist people gifted to him after his “service.” They even swore and convinced themselves that being poor is“good” thing.

in Hero. However. it caused criticism around whether or not Zhang was approving despotism in china’s history. This style was even more notorious in Hero where he uses four different colors to illustrate different versions of an intriguing story. In the article Hero: China’s response to Hollywood globalization by Jenny Kwok Wah Lau “The script's complacency towards a brutal dictatorial leader created much disturbance . There is also a scene where a man gives a portrait of Mao as an apology and present. Compare to the film To Live where it seems to criticize despotism. which made it seem as if the people were worshiping Mao as a god. which lead him to produce one of the most beautiful movies ever made. The film was internationally praised for its honest depiction of this era. Hero (2002). After several films. This time Zhang chooses to make a movie set in the Qin dynasty and its base on the story of the attempted assassination of Emperor Qin. the film takes side with Emperor Qin who is known for being a ruthless and inhuman governor. Zhang’s interest shifted towards action movies due to the recent increase in popularity in Wuxia films. This may tell the viewers that their current society was brainwashed by the promises and believed in their social ideology blindly. it was banned because the Chinese government believed that the film was attacking China’s system and their politics forbidding Zhang to make films for over two years. However. Critics believed that the film is suggesting ruthless leadership justifications and is agreeing with the way on how Qin is trying to bring people together. The film received extremely favorable reviews in mainland China and internationally. It is important to realize that a lot of promotional images of “the leap forward” and Mao’s face everywhere. Similar to his earliest movies Zhang’s work is characterized by its large use of saturated and soft color.

Nonetheless. he needed no apology to defend himself against the accusation of being a politically compromised director. and man dominance. but he never notices her since he already had someone else in his heart. vengeance. The Curse of the Golden Flower is one of the most ornate Films of Zhang Yimou so far. All of this is combined with betrayal. especially since the Chinese government. sexual repression. had given its support to the film project (24)”. which bringings a new style. the lavishing colors. such as women oppression. therefore. This time the film focuses on sexual repression and incestuous desires with a touch of oppression and of course a portrayal of man dominance. “ states that “It is grossly unfair to expect Zhang to draw an analogy between the Chinese Communist Party and the Qin Empire. and .” In other words. The details in the costumes.among critics. it can not be judged solely on Chinese politics and issues from the past. He made those films just to demonstrate he was a commercially successful director. the film combines historical Chinese landscapes and architecture and martial art together. under the then Prime Minister Jiang Zemin. As a result. and beautiful shots make every scene a piece of visual art. but this time he brings back one of his first subjects. it is perhaps one of the reasons why Zhang Yimou produced a similar movie with commercialized themes and elements.. After his previous critical films. This movie is set in the Tang dynasty and the film tells a fictional story of an emperor slowly poisoning his empress after discovering that she has been sleeping with the crown prince for three years. it is revealed that the empress tried to develop a relationship with the emperor. In the movie. Zhang’s work also focuses on bringing a unique artistic version of a story where he creates a new world. In The Imagery of Zhang Yimou’s Films of Social Criticism and his Humanism by Man Hung et al. and different from the melodrama movies in Chinese cinema.

another difference is that in his first movies he would often illustrate the life of the peasants. Although Zhang Yimou has become more commercial. his movies often keeps many elements from his first film such as women being independent human being who fights against male oppression. According to Christopher Orr in The Movie Review: 'Curse of the Golden Flower' it states that” Zhang lets the competing machinations unfold in high operatic style. Movies such as.secrets revolving around this “family”." In other words. but it was moderated unlike his recent films such as in Hero and The Curse of the Golden Flower. Curse of the Golden Flower instead fashions itself a kind of Shakespearean melodrama. In his first movies. the film centers it more in the drama and tragedy with a subtle tone of Wuxia art. Moreover. He always brings back characteristics from his old movies to the recent ones in a new style which makes his films and himself a master of the filmmaking. with the characters alternating between venomous stares and wild. For instance. but he expanded and put royal family in challenging situations. we also see a transition from use of color and isolated shots to a more long and vast landscape shots. Therefore. this movie is a different exploration of themes that focuses it more on the drama and dark secrets of the royal family and how none of the main characters (the empress and the emperor) seem to be the archetypal hero of the movie. . Although these films tell different stories. Hero and the Curse of the Golden Flower are important to recognize because it shows the evolution and exploration of his cinematographic vision and his distinct way of telling stories throughout his films. The Red Sorghum. his films are always intriguing and with many meanings. To Live. emotional outbursts. Moreover. the color was an essential element to his film. Less an action film than Hero and (much) less a romantic adventure than House of Flying Daggers.

aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=503330471&site=ehost-live. Aug. and Chang2 Lien-ya. Patrick T. U. search. 105-112. Man Hung.p. Web. "Chinese Filmmakers Overcome a Wall of Opposition. Catholic. EBSCOhost.com/artist/zhang-yimou-p117624>. pp. "Biography by Jonathan Crow. "The Imagery of Zhang Yimou's Films of Social Criticism and His Humanism. vol. 2..d." ["Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou"]. n. Jonathan. 1995. vol.S. 2.ebscohost. Works Cited Crow. 60." International Journal of the Image. no. 45-48. . pp. N. McCormick." Allmovie. July 2012. <http://www.allmovie.com/login. Sze1.

2017.2007/Lau-Hero/index." Senses of cinema. Web. Web. N.com/2003/cteq/red_sorghum/>. Web.html>." JUMP CUT A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA. <https://www.d.p. Oct. n.. Atlantic Media Company. . <http://sensesofcinema. 2007. Christopher. 2003. Wah Lau.org/archive/jc49. Jenny Kwok Wah Lau Kwok. 23 Apr. <https://www.. "The Movie Review: 'Curse of the Golden Flower'.ejumpcut.com/entertainment/archive/2007/04/the-movie-review-curse-of-the- golden-flower/69242/>. Neo. "Hero: China’s Response to Hollywood Globalization. Orr. 16 Apr." The Atlantic.theatlantic.p. N. David. "Red Sorghum: A Search for Roots.