Composer and producer Zhang Yadong. [Photo: Baidu.com]
A scene from short film L.I.[Photo: Global Times]
Most Chinese people know the name Zhang Yadong from the songs he writes and produces for pop diva Faye Wong. But despite his renown, Zhang is a man who rarely speaks publicly, although he is regarded as arguably the best music producer on the Chinese mainland, and has worked with such Hong Kong singers as Karen Mok and Joey Yung.
A short start
Last year, like singers Leehom Wong and Jay Chou before him, Zhang started to experiment with film, a private passion of over 10 years, hoping that his sensibilities as an artist could help produce something more than just a simple story.
In a recent interview with the Global Times, Zhang spoke about his first short movie, L.I, finished in late 2010, and his understanding as a musician toward making "arthouse" movies.
The 12-minute long, high-definition science fiction L.I initially resembles a long music video. Zhang's personality is evident, however, in the use of lens, setting and music. L.I tells the futuristic story of a young couple, who take out "love insurance." The insurance turns whoever "betrays" their love into a pet that the other can keep forever.
"I used to love painting when I was a child, so I am very interested in visual arts," he said. "Compared with music, movies can express ideas and perspective in a more comprehensive and dynamic way. It is a combination of all the arts, such as music, vision, and acting, and it is a challenge that I think everybody wants to take."
Man of mystery
Zhang, who started to compose at the age of 13, is in some ways as mysterious as his music.
Zhang is 42 but you might not guess that (although a few gray hairs show) and his eyes seem to have the innocence of a child, the acuteness of an artist and the energy of a businessman. He has been in the entertainment industry for over two decades but usually shuns the limelight. He doesn't appear to be driven by materialism – a perfectionist, Zhang has turned down many names and only chooses to work with those he appreciates – although in an industry where few singers write their own material, money has done well by him.
He brings the same attitude to movies, which is fortunate, as there are few avenues he could work in other than independent-style films, which rarely enjoy commercial success, especially in China.
"It is important to find what you want to express from your heart. I am not so interested in commercial stuff. It has a lot of set patterns that you need to follow and that makes me uncomfortable," he said. "The most valuable thing is usually what cannot be bought."
Rhythm and arrangement
L.I's thought-provoking storyline got over a million hits in three days, after being uploaded to youku.com, a video website. "Hard to understand but a good story. No wonder, it's written by the gifted Zhang," said one user. "If Love Insurance really existed, would you dare use it?" wondered another. It may not be to people's usual taste but it is exactly the kind of project Zhang wants to work on in the future.
"You can use [film] to present life and society, and find your own voice in the chaos," he said. "I will still be honest with my ideas, even if that isn't recognized by the majority at the moment."
Although it is Zhang's first time as a movie director, making music for productions such as Lan Yu and Spring Subway gave him opportunities to see filmmaking techniques up close. But it is still no easy job for him.
"There are so many things you need to coordinate. I have been in the music world for so long. Music has a lot of concepts which one does not need to explain, but when you make a movie, you have to put [these concepts] down in detail, which is the most difficult thing for me," he said, adding that he would hopefully produce a lengthy new video next year.
Despite these difficulties, Zhang needs to differentiate himself from other movie-making professionals.
"If a musician makes a movie, the movie must have very good rhythm and arrangement," he explained. "Sometimes there are moments when no speech goes on. A still scene with some background music can be just perfect to present a most moving moment. But there are not so many scenes like that in a movie, the rest have lots of realistic problems you have to work on to get right."
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