Zhang Yimou

The 50th anniversary in 1982 saw a prestigious International Jury formed entirely of film directors, and the same formula has been adopted for the 75th anniversary of the 64th Venice Film Festival. Invited to chair it is the film-maker who, in the whole history of the Festival, has won most major awards, making a place for himself amongst the protagonists of cinema world-wide: the Chinese director, Zhang Yimou. The decision has been taken by the Board of Directors of the Biennale di Venezia, chaired by its President, Davide Croff, which approved the proposal made by Marco Müller, director of the 64th Venice Film Festival, which will take place between 29th August and 8th September 2007.

Present four times in competition in the Venice Film Festival – in 1991 with Raise the Red Lantern (Da hong deng long gao gao gua), in 1992 with The Story of Qiu Ju (Qiu Ju da guan si), in 1997 with Keep Cool (You hua hao hao shuo) and in 1999 with Not One Less (Yi ge dou bu neng shao). He has won two Golden Lions, in 1992 and 1999, one Silver Lion in 1991, and one Coppa Volpi for best female star (Gong Li, in 1992 for The  Story of Qiu Ju). Zhang is the only director in the world to have won all the most important awards in the Venice Film Festival in less than ten years.

Biographical Notes:

Zhang Yimou was born in the People’s Republic of China in Xi’an (province of the Shaanxi) in 1950. The son of an officer in the Nationalist army of Chiang Kai-Shek (for which reason the family was "purged" during the Cultural Revolution), the young Zhang Yimou was obliged to cut short his studies at the age of 18, as he was first sent to work in the countryside and then in a textile factory. Following the death of Mao, many higher education institutes that were closed by the Cultural Revolution were able to re-open their doors. Thus it was that in 1978 Zhang entered the recently re-opened Beijing Film Academy to study Photography (he graduated in 1982). He was then assigned to the Guangxi film studios, a location "out of the way" with regard to the heavy-handed censorship besetting the production centres of Beijing and Shanghai. In the Guangxi Film Studios two other graduates of the Academy, Zhang Junzhao and Chen Kaige (both from the Directing Course), were already working on the explosive first films of the new current. Zhang Yimou’s first work as director of photography was One and Eight (Yige he bage), directed in 1984 by Zhang Junzhao but blocked by the censors, who imposed no less than 75 cuts and modifications, and released in 1989 (the ‘director’s cut’ of the film was presented at the 2005 Venice Mostra as part of the retrospective dedicated to the hundred years of Mainland Chinese cinema). Zhang also worked as director of photography on Yellow Earth (Huang tudi, 1984), Chen Kaige’s first feature film, a new bombshell that contributed to the smashing of the "official cinema". Zhang continued to work with Chen for his subsequent film, The Big Parade (Da yuebing, 1986), which has stayed invisible from immediately after its first release. In the same year (1986), he worked with director Wu Tianming as both director of photography and as leading actor in Old Well (Lao jing). It was thanks to Wu Tianming, the director-producer who became director of the Xi’an studios in 1989 and gathered together all the new but "unapproved" talents, that Zhang was finally able to make his first film as director, Red Sorghum (Hong gaoliang, 1987), adapting a successful novel by Mo Yan. This won the Golden Bear at the 1988 Berlin Film Festival and immediately thrust Zhang and his muse, actress Gong Li, in the forefront of the attention of the public and critics in China and abroad. Their artistic and sentimental relationship would last for five films. In 1990, Ju Dou, co-directed by Yang Fengliang and starring Gong Li, was the first Chinese film to be a candidate for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film, after having been first presented at the Cannes Film Festival. In the following year, Raise the Red Lantern (Da hong denglong gaogao gua) won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and won another nomination at the Oscars as Best Foreign Film. Both Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern were heavily censored in the versions released in China. The following film, The Story of Qiu Ju (Qiu Ju da guansi, 1992), Golden Lion and Coppa Volpi for Gong Li in Venice, miraculously escaped censorship: after the success of the film at the Venice Mostra, the director’s earlier films were removed from the "black list". However, his fifth film with Gong Li, To Live (Huozhe, 1994), which adapted a celebrated novel by Yu Hua had fresh problems with the authorities, although it won the Special jury prize and the prize for best actor at the Cannes Festival. In 1995, his career made a first shift towards genre cinema with a gangster film entitled Shanghai Triad (Yao ayao yao dao  waipo qiao, 1995), which won the Grand Prix de la Commission Supérieure Technique at the Cannes Film Festival. The two films that followed were launched with success at the Venice Film Festival and were then presented at other film festivals around the world, which helped assure them a successful distribution: Keep Cool (Yohua haohao shuo, 1997), and above all Not One Less (Yige dou buneng shao, 1999), which in Venice won the Golden Lion, the Magic Lantern prize and the Sergio Trasatti Award. In 2000, with The Road Home (Wo de fuqin muqin),  Zhang assured himself the Silver Bear and the Jury Grand Prix at the Berlin Festival and, subsequently, the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. This film marked the debut of the director’s new muse, Zhang Ziyi, who would work with him in another three films. After the much-rewarded Happy Times (Xingfu shiguang, 2000), starring Zhang Ziyi, Zhang Yimou made a new and brusque change of direction towards genre cinema, and more precisely towards the wuxia (martial-knightly) genre, first with Hero (Ying xiong, 2002), candidate for an Oscar as best foreign film, and then with House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu, 2004). At the time it was filmed, Hero was the most expensive film in the history of Chinese cinema. It was distributed internationally in a new version prepared by Miramax from the USA and presented by Quentin Tarantino, a great admirer of the Chinese film maker. The film was one of the first subtitled films (that is, not dubbed into English) to top the box offices in America. Two years later, House of Flying Daggers repeated the international success of the earlier film. In 2005, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Qianli zou danqi ) successfully participated in the Tokyo Festival and was picked up the following year by the first edition of Cinema. Festa Internazionale di Roma (in the Extra section). Zhang Yimou’s latest film is once again a historic epic with an unprecedented budget in China, Curse of the Golden Flower (Mancheng jindai huangjin jia), a tragedy set in China during the Tang dynasty. It stars two of the most famous Chinese actors at home and abroad: Gong Li, who after ten years has once again worked with the director, and Chow Yun Fat from Hong Kong. This film, to be released in Italy on the 25th May, works both as a great spectacle and as a political metaphor with a precarious equilibrium between the old and new generations of holders of central power in China. Zhang is one of the 35 directors invited by Gilles Jacob to produce a three-minute episode to form a part of Chacun son cinéma, the film-event with which the Cannes Film Festival, 15 years younger than its Venetian counterpart, intends celebrating its own 60th anniversary this year.