Born in Xian, Shaanxi, the internationally acclaimed director Zhang Yimou is one of the most popular and prolific Chinese directors in the Fifth Generation, which mainly refers to graduates from the Beijing Film Academy in the early 1980s. Like many people of his age, Zhang was sent to farms and factories during the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps drawing from his own personal experience, his earlier movies documented the resilience of Chinese people and their ability to cope with hardship. In 1987, he directed his first movie Red Sorghum, casting the mainland actress Gong Li in her first leading role (Zhang later cast her in five other movies).
Among his best known movies are Raise the Red Lantern, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. However, other must-sees are To Live and Not One Less. To Live follows the struggles of an impoverished husband and wife from their heyday in the 1940s to the hardships during the Cultural Revolution. The movie was originally banned in China. Not One Less, which Zhang reckons is one of his best films, is a documentary/drama about rural poverty. It is a true story in which the actual people play themselves, dispensing with the need for actors (and their somewhat higher salaries).
Any other talents?
The movie director is heavily involved in theatre as well. In 1998 he staged and directed Puccini’s opera Turandot at the Forbidden City in Beijing. He also headed the production of Tan Dun’s The First Emperor for New York City’s Metropolitan Opera in 2006.
Why is he in the news?
After directing the highly acclaimed opening and closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, Zhang is also booked to choreograph a firework display and a military parade in Tiananmen Square on October 1, the official anniversary of the birth of communist China. The state media has also announced that Zhang is planning a film to mark the event.
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