Golden Horse Zhang ZiyiJia ZhangkeZhang Yimou"Conspirators"Bona

Zhang Yimou: "Don't Think of the Bad Signs"

2012-12-13 16:07:55        Chinese Films

Being born into this bad sign -- has it been your blessing in disguise?

I'd rather look at it as twisted luck. After all, there were millions of people who had a worse fate than myself during China's Cultural Revolution. I was able to survive, struggle, and go on, and this has become my vision of life. I think you must be able to look at the good signs -- and sides -- of situations if you want to want life to move forward. Don't think of the bad signs, even if they are hanging somewhere.

Can you talk more about your experience living through the Cultural Revolution?

It was a time when your destiny was tied closely to the type of family you were born into. My parents belonged to the Chinese Nationalist Party, the anti-party to the Communists, so this made it difficult to do many basic things, like even attending school. But this is all in the past -- today's China is much closer to the rest of the world. Those problems don't exist anymore, but of course other problems occur. For films, directors are facing new issues like the pressures of commercial and Hollywood cinema.

That Hollywood pressure you just described -- how much was the casting of Christian Bale in The Flowers of War a reaction to this?

Because of the history I was describing in this film, the 1930s and the Nanjing Massacre, it made sense to have a foreigner cast in the film. But of course, there were pressures from film investors who wanted to see who your cast will be, so the mention of an actor like Bale did help attract the interest. But actually, he was kind enough to give us a discount on his normal Hollywood rate, so he wasn't even that expensive. [Laughing]

Some Western critics say that your earlier films were against China's regime, and now you're catering towards it. What are your thoughts on this?

Actually, I don't think I've changed much. There is of course, a great deal of censorship in China, so I'm still not completely free to make the films I wish to create. I have to work with the restrictions that I'm given, but inside of this, I try to go on making the films that I want.

My inspiration has remained constant, even if the situation and plot vary. What I've always tried to pursue is this idea that films should reflect an extremely individual and personal story, especially when used to illustrate how much China has evolved through the years. I think these individual stories are the only ones that can touch peoples' hearts. And because there are so many stories, it's an endless pursuit.

You say that your inspiration has remained constant, but there is a difference in your past and current work -- shifting from small rural melodramas to epic and big-budget films.

I think this is less a reflection of my individual pursuit and more a reflection of the evolution of Chinese cinematography. If you look at the global box office, China has become the second market in the world. So as film directors, we've had to adapt to this evolution and the requests of the market, and use ingredients in our films that are likely to attract more viewers. I mean, every single day there are five new screens added in China.

That said, I've always been interested in the same aspects of human life, and the next film I'm going to shoot in 2013 is the kind of film that pays homage to my earlier films, with a smaller budget and a more intimate lens.

The pursuit of inner peace is a reoccurring theme in many of your films. How do you pursue inner peace in your own life?

Because of my difficult upbringing, I think I've especially needed to find this inner peace. As a filmmaker, I've poured my energy into capturing a great story - it's become the truest basis of my work - getting rid of all the superficial turmoil and concentrating on the depth of a story. Personally, pursuing inner peace requires a lot of concentration.

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