COURTESY HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Zhang Yimou directs Ziyi Zhang, left, and Takeshi Kaneshiro in "House of Flying Daggers."
Hero of the hour
China's Zhang Yimou hopes his future films allow him to present more than a kung-fu view of his native land
Zhang Yimou is China's most celebrated director. His visually opulent period films "Raise the Red Lantern," and "Ju Dou" were nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscars. Then in 2002 Zhang moved mainstream with the adventure epic, "Hero," and two-years later won international acclaim for his stunning martial arts piece, "House of Flying Daggers."
Born in Xian in 1950, the son of an officer in Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang army, Zhang has always had a tenuous relationship with Chinese authorities. After working in a textile factory during the Cultural Revolution, he was accepted into the Beijing Film Academy. Together with Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang and Zhang Junzhao he formed a famous group of filmmakers known as the Fifth Generation.
Though many filmgoers, including officials of his own government, see political references in his films, Zhang dismisses that concern: "The objective of any form of art is not political."
Speaking through an interpreter during an interview yesterday, Zhang said, "I have no political intentions. I am not interested in politics."
Still, he has had problems with Chinese censors. A decade ago, Beijing authorities halted production on his gangster picture, "Shanghai Triad," and briefly kept the filmmaker from attending foreign film festivals.
Today, however, Zhang is so highly regarded by authorities that he was chosen to make the official film promoting China's successful bid for the Olympics.
"There is one saying you hear a lot, which is, 'When the Olympics take place, the sky of Beijing will have to be blue,' " he says. "China will have to cooperate with foreign countries with a much more open attitude."
The Games likely will benefit all the people of China, he adds. "For a city like Beijing, which is polluted, in order to welcome visitors coming from all over the world, there will be a great effort to improve the environment and the infrastructure."
Zhang will receive the Hawaii International Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award. He spoke to the Star-Bulletin on the eve of the festival's opening.
COURTESY HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Yimou accepted the Vision in Film Award at the Hawaii International Film Festival in 1995. He is being honored with the festival's Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
"You have created a ballet from your acclaimed film 'Raise the Red Lantern' that is currently playing in New York, and next year you will direct the opera of famous Chinese composer Tan Dun, also in New York. Why the diversion from film?"
Answer: "Actually, for all these ventures they came to me to help them. I think with the ballet they were simply looking for a new subject to stimulate interest. As long as it doesn't effect my film-making, my focus, in between projects I am always looking forward to try new things for experience, exposure and inspiration."
Q: " 'Hero" has been a huge commercial success. Did you set out to make it as big a hit as possible?"
A: "Yes I did plan it that way, but I never expected that it would be so popular internationally. These kind of films are more easily accepted by Chinese audiences, but not so easy with western audience because of the cultural barrier. 'Crouching Lion, Hidden Dragon' was a very good start for Chinese films that made it accessible for other cultures to learn about Chinese culture. To use kung-fu movies is a good start to break those barriers."
Q: "There was some negative response to 'Hero' in China."
A: "Many of my films encounter this ... The Chinese audience doesn't think I should film such commercial films; too shallow and too simple. The topics should be more serious, more formal and grand: How do you evaluate whether the emperor is a good guy or bad guy and what is all the political reasoning behind that.
"In some films the Western audience praises the film for being beautiful and sensitive and touching, but my domestic audience criticizes, saying why am I showing the ugly and backward and poor areas of China. ...
"I am used to the criticism and I expect it to continue."
Q: "So what's the next step following kung fu for Chinese film-making?"
A: "I want to expand to other types of films and more rich information about China. It is a long-term effort, but in China we have a saying that you cannot stuff yourself one time to be a choppy guy."
Q: "Will the West be interested in Chinese romance, mystery, drama or political intrigue?"
A: "I notice that Western audiences are very interested in political topics and, of course, romance. The beautiful thing for Chinese filmmakers is that interest is expanding for our films and away from just the cultural aspects. Western audiences seem to have a growing desire to learn more about the real China.
"Of course, there are different types of audiences from intellectuals, media and the 18-year-old crowd who may be asking about Jackie Chan."
Q: "How are Chinese films influencing Hollywood?"
A: "The most obvious influence of our kung fu movies is gravity means nothing. Hollywood is starting to use Chinese kung-fu masters for their stunt work. Now some Hollywood movies fly better than our films.
"Some of the martial arts films are quite poetic. ... The action sequences in the films are more beautiful, more rhythmic."
Q: "What's next?"
A: "In December there will be screenings of my new movie "Riding Alone for a Thousand Miles" and in February I will start a new project that I hope will star Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li. We're in discussions for that."
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Film star returns
Philippine film star Cesar Montano is returning to Hawaii for HIFF's screening of his landmark film, "Panaghoy Sa Soba (The Call of the River)." Montano produced, directed and starred in the award-winning epic of love, loyalty, jealousy and patriotism in the rural Philippines before and during World War II.
"Panaghoy Sa Soba" made its U.S. premiere at the Hawaii Theatre in April, but technical difficulties prevented the film's final scenes from being shown. It screens in full at 3:45 p.m. Friday and Oct. 28 at Dole Cannery.
Montano's work was the first full-length film in more than 15 years to feature dialogue in Cebuano, the language of the region -- instead of Tagalog, the official national language.
Montano stars as a hard-working boatman, Duroy, who is in love with a beautiful young woman named Iset. But Duroy's impetuous younger brother pursues Iset more aggressively, and an obnoxious American businessman is also attracted to her. And with the arrival of Japanese forces in 1942, Iset's wealthy American suitor is replaced by a Japanese army officer.
Other story lines address the relationship of the Filipinos to their foreign overlords and increased resistance as the Japanese occupation becomes more brutal.