This year’s Chinese film summer golden period, two is considered the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary of the key dedication of the film “sniper” and “Changjin Lake” will soon go head to head. The two films not only focus on anti-American aid, but are also directed by fifth-generation directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, respectively. Analysts say that these fifth-generation directors, who were internationally renowned for their distinctive artistic characteristics at the beginning of the reform and opening up, are ultimately unable to escape the main theme played by the Chinese Communist Party.
The main representatives of the fifth generation of directors
The fifth generation of directors refers to the group of directors who graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in the 1980s. Ming-Han Hsu, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at Taiwan Normal University, told Voice of America that the fifth generation of directors is uniquely positioned compared to their predecessors.
The early third and fourth generation had a more distinctive ‘national policy,’ and they could only make model films,” Hsu said. Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou’s fifth generation directors were characterized by their experience with the Cultural Revolution and their access to the resources of state-run studios during the same period. 1978 coincided with the reform and opening up. It was the time when they enrolled in school and also ushered in the first wave of the commercial wave.”
The 1984 film “Yellow Land,” directed by Chen Kaige and photographed by Zhang Yimou, is considered a symbol of the rise of the fifth generation of cinema.
Xu Minghan said, “Chen Kaige was in the directing department. Zhang Yimou was in the photography department. This is actually quite crucial. It’s about their own style and characteristics of filmmaking. Chen Kaige will pay more attention to the performance and character portrayal. Zhang Yimou himself comes from a photography background, so his directing approach is more towards art and scenes, rather than sculpting actors, but you see Chen Kaige is very good at sculpting actors.”
“Yellow Land” shows the poor life of farmers on the Loess Plateau, the backward marriage customs and the disaster-prone climate. Xu Minghan believes that the film’s success is not a coincidence.
He said, “The film was not focused on politics, but on the plight of the people living in northern Shaanxi or the Loess Plateau. Interestingly, because the cinematographer at the time was Zhang Yimou, who is from Shaanxi, he was super familiar with the Loess Plateau, and the film had a very strong artistic quality at the time.”
Chinese films go global after reform and opening up
Lee Ching-Liang, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Radio and Television at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University who was interviewed by the Voice of America, believes that the atmosphere of reform and opening up created the work to become a classic.
The so-called fifth generation (directors) all had a similar experience, that is, they went to the mountains and went to the countryside, they went to university in the year when the college entrance examination was resumed, and started making films around the mid-1980s. After the reopening of the country, China lost communication with the outside world for a long time. Many people were asking how ‘China’ should be interpreted.”
A few years later, Zhang Yimou’s first directorial work “red sorghum” caused an even greater sensation. Some people describe the film as “a strong color, bold style, praising the Chinese nation’s exuberant national spirit. This work was released in 1988 and became an instant hit, winning the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, one of the world’s top three film festivals.
The company’s main business is to provide a wide range of products and services to the public, such as the “Red Sorghum”, the “Yellow Land” and the “Red Sorghum” is in such a context, and get a relatively high evaluation, because this is a cultural fever era, cultural workers are standing on the stage of the times. The company’s main goal is to provide the best possible service to its customers. They have a lot of play in the interpretation of China. This was probably also a time when China was more active in its thinking and the environment was more relaxed.”
Shooting China in an exotic way
In addition to the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, Zhang Yimou has twice won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and has been nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Zhang Yimou has become a leading director of the fifth generation and his style of filming has a lot to do with it, as reflected in his films “Red Sorghum” and “The Big Red Lantern”.
The first thing you need to do is to get a good idea of what you’re getting into. It means that I am obviously Chinese, but I make China look like a mysterious veil, a mysterious exoticism that the West wants to see. Usually it’s the foreigners who shoot China in an exotic way, but Zhang Yimou just shoots China in an exotic way.”
In the 1990s, the careers of the two men rose to the top, with “Ju Dou”, “Qiu Ju Fights the Lawsuit” and “No One Less” establishing Zhang Yimou’s status as a major director. And Chen Kaige with “Farewell My Concubine” has become the only Chinese director to have won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It is worth noting that “Farewell My Concubine” brings together actors from the mainland and Hong Kong, with some of the funding coming from Taiwan. According to scholar Li Zhengliang, this reflects the trend of the time.
In the mid-1990s, Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige were probably at the peak of their artistic careers,” said Li. “
The film was accused of serving the Communist regime
In 2002, Zhang Yimou directed his first commercial blockbuster “Hero”. The martial arts film broke Chinese box office records at the time, grossing more than $170 million worldwide, and was described as ushering in an era of blockbuster movies in mainland China.
Li Zhengliang said: “‘Hero’ is a political allegory. He tells the familiar Chinese story of Jing Ke’s assassination of King Qin. Its theme is that the swordsman ‘Wu Ming’ was close enough to the King of Qin to assassinate him, but in the end he listened to the King’s great speech about the world and was so convinced that he gave up the assassination. This story flips the original narrow definition of Chinese cinema . The ‘hero’ becomes a collaborator of the regime: willing to sacrifice his own life to achieve the greatness of the Qin king.”
“Hero” has also become Zhang Yimou’s most controversial work.
Li Zhengliang said, “There are few Chinese films that portray the King of Qin from the perspective of glorifying the King and totalitarianism. Zhang Yimou’s ‘Hero’ almost offers a defense of the future Communist Party’s authoritarian approach through images. ‘Hero’ also establishes a relatively close relationship between Zhang Yimou and the Communist system.”
Some public opinion has suggested that “Hero” is in the service of the current regime. Some have described Zhang Yimou as an “opportunist” who has always played fast and loose with China’s official system.
Li Zhengliang said, “The film is technically very impressive, especially its art and camera work, which are always beautiful, but even now, I have seen so many of his films. I’m actually not quite sure what his ultimate quest is. No wonder some people say he is ‘rubbish’ and ‘opportunistic’, probably because he is good at moving closer to the mainstream in the environment of different times. He always changes with the times and always stands in the mainstream.”
Directing the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies for the officials
The unprecedented success of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics earned Zhang Yimou a spot in the final five of Time magazine’s Person of the Year as chief director, and further cemented his place in the hearts of Chinese officials.
Hsu Ming-Han, vice president of the Taiwan Film Critics Association, believes that Zhang Yimou’s appointment to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games was related to his role in the live-action performance “Impression of Liu Sanjie.
Xu Minghan said, “I think one of the key reasons why I was able to be the chief director of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was because of the fact that Zhang Yimou was the director of the show. I think one of the key points is that in 2004, he did the ‘Impression of Liu Sanjie’. Every night will be lit up, in the water’s edge group dance, a bit like North Korea (North Korea) (large group performance) ‘Arirang’ kind of logic. I think Zhang Yimou because Liu Sanjie was a regular annual performance from 2004 to 2008, and the box office was so good that it proved he had the ability to do that, so he became the general director of the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony.”
This year is the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. At least two of the movies released during the summer prime time are related to the anti-American war, including “Sniper,” which Zhang Yimou co-directed with his daughter Zhang Mao.
According to scholar Li Zhengliang, Zhang Yimou is not only a guaranteed box office hit, but also meets “mainstream” expectations. He said, “Melodramatic movies are really an industry in China. The so-called ‘patriotism’ is a business, and melodramatic themes are something that can make money. Zhang Yimou may still have his way, because he was originally very good at being in the ‘mainstream’ position, so he is an indicator in the big market of ‘patriotic’.”
Continue to serve the centennial of the party “sweat and toil”
In the summer vacation season and “sniper” head-on another melodramatic film “Changjin Lake”, about the brave deeds of the Chinese People’s Volunteers in the battle of Changjin Lake, the film by Chen Kaige, Hong Kong director Tsui Hark and Lin Chaoxian co-directed.
According to some critics, Chen Kaige’s films are not as successful as they were in their heyday, but the fact that he was the chief director of “My Country and I,” a melodrama celebrating China’s 70th National Day two years ago, shows that he is still officially valued.
Li Zhengliang said, “Many young people now like the so-called ‘Chinese hero tendency’. We see the Chinese film market and its box office base. In any case, the fact that a fifth-generation director is already a big age and is still making films for the 100-year party celebration is a thing worth promoting in itself.”
Taiwan Film Critics Association’s Ming-Han Hsu said the actual role played by Chen Kaige in “Changjin Lake” remains to be seen. He said, “It really remains to be seen what role Chen Kaige will play. Whether he will be just a titular state, or he will be in it to exert his personal characteristics of the perspective, because his personal characteristics are reflected in the opera or character portrayal. If Chen Kaige is not deeply involved, then why should he be involved. This I think in symbolism, and or ideology kind of titular logic related.”
After the epidemic, it will be interesting to see if the head-to-head battle between the two fifth-generation directors will drive the Chinese box office. One Shanghai fan told Voice of America that the authorities had high hopes for “Sniper” and “Nagatsu Lake” at a time of tensions between the U.S. and China, which is why they invited Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige to sit in. The Shanghai audience said: “The international situation is very tense at this time, and the U.S.-China relations are at a standstill. The authorities hope to influence some people through this film, to achieve the effect of propaganda, political purposes, but also to deal with the current international environment.”