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[INTERVIEW] Zhang Yimou

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  • chiayuan25
    INTERVIEW: ZHANG YIMOU 12.03.04 By Fred Topel This sure seems to be the year of the translators. We have spoken to so many Asian artists who do not speak
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5 7:53 PM
      By Fred Topel

      This sure seems to be the year of the translators. We have spoken to
      so many Asian artists who do not speak English, and communicated
      through translators. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, or a sign
      that the Asian film culture continues to explode in America. I just
      can't believe that in 10 years of watching these movies, I haven't
      picked up a word of the language. We should be able to do this in
      Mandarin but I'm still reliant on the translation services.

      Zhang's latest martial arts epic, House of Flying Daggers, got
      released this month from Sony Pictures Classics, a lot faster than
      Miramax brought Hero to U.S. screens. Presumably building off of the
      recent buzz Hero received, Daggers is another character drama that
      happens to entail large groups of people firing arrows and fighting.
      Funny how that happens.

      Q: How tough is it to transplant human drama onto a martial arts

      Yimou: This is very difficult and also important that to put passion
      in the relationship in the action film. Yes, it's easier to make
      this film after Hero because I have more experience.

      Q: What led to your decision to move to martial arts after a long
      history of dramatic films?

      Yimou: The script for Hero and House of Flying Daggers were brought
      to me at the same time and they were talking about the same themes
      of sacrifice, but in two different ways to express those themes. For
      Hero, it's a more classical way of talking about people's belief and
      to sacrifice the individual for the big picture, but for House of
      Flying Daggers, it's another way. It's about the individual and
      sacrifice to pursue their own love. It's always been challenging for
      me to direct different styles of films, like before I was doing
      films on a small scale, on a small budget, talking about ordinary
      people's lives, and now with Hero and House of Flying Daggers, they
      are such huge scale films that are as different as heaven and earth.
      But for me, it's always just great to face different challenges.
      That makes me grow as an artist, and makes me to develop and to
      learn and enhance my skills and make me more knowledgeable. But my
      next film will be another small-scaled film that talks about
      ordinary people's lives too, and I think after all of these
      different style films I will continue the learning process and
      that's important for all of the actors because I remember I was in
      Cannes Film Festival a Japanese director received a lifetime
      achievement and he was on stage and he was saying that I think to
      study how to shoot the film and that makes me think to be a director
      is to learn and challenge myself.

      Q: Do you have ambitions to work in the U.S.?

      Yimou: On account of the good receipt of Hero at the box office, a
      lot of American companies have invited me to be a part of American
      films, but for me personally I don't think so because I don't know
      English and I don't know the stories or characters, so
      right now, no.

      Q: What are the restrictions a filmmaker in China faces today as
      opposed to 10 or 20 years ago?

      Yimou: Back twenty years ago they abandoned the creative part and
      it's very different because now it's about making commercial films.
      Now it's a big concern for almost every director in China, to think
      about the marketing, the competition angle, the huge pressure of
      Hollywood films, so it's very complicated for people to make films,
      but this is an opinion that in the `80s in China, people would just
      make pure art films. Now, for all of the artists in China, it's
      their responsibility to protect Chinese films so they have their own
      space in world cinema.

      Q: How do you do that?

      Yimou: The first concern is the piracy in China, which there is
      nothing I can do personally about government's attention to control
      it, and also China has been remarking that there are about twenty
      pieces of foreign films from Hollywood will come to China and all of
      the young audiences love Hollywood productions. That gives pressure
      to Chinese filmmakers. Hero also helped. Actually I use them to try
      out to see if I can do it to receive good box office to fight
      Hollywood films, but now I feel that they are not bad and they will
      be a success at the box office in America, but ideas are not enough.
      A filmmaker also has to think to enhance the quality of the film.
      That is very, very important. A good film must contain good quality
      and then it will receive good marketing as well.

      Q: Are you happier with the way that Sony Classics is handling House
      of Flying Daggers?

      Yimou: I don't understand about the marketing. I think the companies
      have their reasons to do it this way and personally I hope they're
      all doing a good job to help promote
      the movie.

      Q: How tough is it to insert social commentary in your movies?

      Yimou: No matter how many years ago the film is about, the audience
      is from today, so they have the same things in common when they see
      the film. It's about society, it's about young audiences and how
      they see it and all of the stories are about the passion and
      beautiful things and about seeing what's in common. The most
      important thing is that the audience can get information from the
      movie and also the film can impact society and a young audience, or
      the audience in general. But yes, it's difficult. It's difficult for
      me to make traditional, classical films because you cannot just
      directly go into people's minds. It's not a direct way to extract [a
      message] because it's a traditional story.

      Q: Are you interested in making a martial arts comedy?

      Yimou: It's not in my plan.

      Q: What are you working on next?

      Yimou: My next film will be shot next month and it will be a
      contemporary themed film and no fighting anymore.

      Q: Are there any plans for a third martial arts movie?

      Yimou: Yes, we are looking for a new script for the third one.

      Q: Talk about the use of color in this film as opposed to Hero?

      Yimou: Colors have always been the priority of my concern. Sometimes
      I can just choose color because of the dynasty- for example, in
      Hero, the Qin dynasty was represented by black. In previous Chinese
      films, I think there's not enough black to show the Qin dynasty, so
      that's why I chose Qin to represent black colors. Now, I have many
      different choices. I can use different backgrounds and different
      eras, but that's how I chose the black. I chose colors to represent
      different eras that represent a color. For House of Flying Daggers I
      used the rich colors from the painting on the wall and it was during
      the Tang dynasty all of the rich color enhanced the picture.

      Q: How do you balance acting with action?

      Yimou: I really appreciated my action director, Tony Ching, who has
      a lot of experience making over a hundred or 200 films, but at the
      beginning we both agreed that there was not much interest in just
      making an action movie. We needed depth of the characters and story
      so we had many meetings before we shot the action scenes, and during
      the action scenes, I am just like the assistant director sitting in
      front of the monitor, and Tony is the director, directing all of the
      action, and also Tony has a lot of experience working as a director
      too, so we put together the acting and fight scenes to make it look

      Q: Talk about the role of women in Chinese society, since you always
      have strong women leads?

      Yimou: Asking about the position of women in Chinese society is a
      huge question to talk about because there are millions and millions
      of Chinese women out there, but let me just talk about in the
      context of the big cities. In the big cities, the male and the
      female are equal, but there are still lots of problems in the
      countryside. Men still look down on women and women face a lot of
      pressure because of tradition, and now we need to protect women's
      position and protect their rights. For the films I've been making,
      it wasn't my intention to make all of female themed movies, but
      people just make that conclusion for me, but looking back, yes,
      maybe that's true and maybe that's why people have called me a
      female's director. I'm always interested in female stories, but
      maybe it's easy for me to capture the female when they face
      depression and how they try to fight back against society and

      Q: What does Hong Kong style mean to you?

      Yimou: Hong Kong filmmaking is a more commercial style, especially
      they are making a lot of martial arts action films and I think
      that's the initial city for martial arts films. For example, the
      actor Jet Li, and from recently, mainland China's martial arts, we
      just make them recent and we need to hire lots of technicians like
      martial arts directors from Hong Kong because they have the best
      source there. Right now, Hong Kong movies also face difficulties and
      the pressure of the commercial, but personally I hope that Hong Kong
      movies will have a great future because the base is very strong.

      Q: What about Hollywood films influenced by Asian films?

      Yimou: In mainland China, almost every year we're seeing almost 20
      Hollywood films, so there's a big impact on the young generation,
      people and filmmakers in China. I think the best part about
      Hollywood films is that they've always had really good publicity and
      commercialized marketing, and also it's a good story, a touching
      story, some of them, and a lot of creative thoughts in the movie,
      but for Chinese films, we need to invent and retain the nationality
      and the flavor of the eastern. Also, to make great stories.

      Q: Have you been satisfied with the translation of your movies to
      international audiences?

      Yimou: We cannot avoid this problem. For example, in this film,
      we're using a poem to describe how beautiful the female character
      is, but it's really, really tasteful in our film, talking in
      Chinese, but when it translates into English, it doesn't make sense.
      It loses quality there. But I think it's okay in this kind of film.
      The huge damage for this is in comedy, because for comedy there's a
      lot of local humor and sometimes because of different islands,
      different cities and different countries, sometimes people are
      watching without laughing at all.

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