Great filmmaker, but I can’t quite call him a master. He has made 2 films that I like very much, "To Live’ and “Raise the Red Lantern”, but in his films and even in his best ones I always feel like they are too short. That the films end too early, like we are only shown 3/4 of the film.
His films usually have a wonderful pace in which the viewer is carried along quite nicely, like any good film, but they always seem cut short. Some times more than others, and while its been a while since I’ve seen it, I distinctly remember Shanghai Triad giving me this feeling, and more recently I watched his Red Sorghum, which had all of the makings of an epic, and then it ends quickly, brutally, and not totally unexpectedly, but not completely satisfying.
Am I the only one who has had this issue with the director?
In the very least I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve seen from him. His recent turn into the wuxia genre has been mixed, but the three films are completely watchable, and pretty fun even in their complete vapidity. Even Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is decent enough, if not somewhat over done, and manipulative.
His earlier film are masterful, though. To Live rivals almost any other film made that year (1994 was an amazing year in foreign film), and Raise the Red Lantern is a plain and simple masterpiece.
Zhang Yimou I believe started out as a cinematographer (Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth), and this shows in his own films with his eye for colour. I agree with you in that for me, Raise the Red Lantern and To Live are probably his best films, with the first being my absolute favourite by him. I have mixed feelings about some of his later wuxia films, although I’ll admit that they were beautiful to watch.
His earlier films also have the addition of social critique, bringing to the screen less glamorous, yet realistic stories from the countryside about peasant life, such as with The Story of Qiu Ju and Not One Less. Plus, his pairing with actress Gong Li was truly one of a kind. Overall, I agree with Josh in that his earlier works were his masterpieces. I don’t think I had the issue of the films ending rather abruptly though… I can understand why you felt that way about Shanghai Triad, but I think I preferred where he ended the film. If you’re interested in Zhang’s films, you may want to look into Chen Kaige and Tian Zhuangzhuang’s films as well (his fellow graduates), if you haven’t already.
One of my pet peeves: Zhang Yimou not Yimou Zhang.
(Good thread though, any thread boasting elaboration is good these days)
I love him.
For anyone who liked Raise the Red Lantern and To Live be sure to check out Ju Dou – it’s equally great and maybe even my favorite of his!
Well, he has been one of cinema’s great colourists, and i also prefer his earlier films. I hadn’t thought of Red Sorghum, still his best i think, as too short. It may have an epic quality but that doesn’t demand epic length. The ending is quite shocking after some of the previous jollity but i don’t see why he would have needed to string it out. It has the impact he wanted. Raise the Red Lantern is also excellent, and in those early years it looked like he was headed for greatness, though some dissenters like Gilbert Adair were already finding fault, eg with the simple symmetries of Raise the Red Lantern, which i thought suited the rules and control in the story fine. Of his later films i liked House of the Flying Daggers, with its beautiful greens and the wondrous Zhang Ziyi, but he’s gone too far into Hollywood spectacular mode otherwise, and subtlety (never his strongest point) out the window. He’s shown his mastery of choreography and organisational ability with big crowd scenes of course, and London won’t be able to match the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony (helped along by a little CGI) for sure- especially with the economic mess. Some consider that his masterpiece. But there was a time i had hoped for more with his films
@Law, yes it is Zhang Yimou, but what’s strange is that this name order seems more commonly accepted by the West with the Chinese but not Japanese, so although some critics will say Mizoguchi Kenji, that’s still seen by many as somehow snobbish or odd.
I didn’t want to misspell his name, so I just copy and pasted from IMDB…
I can’t remember if I’ve seen the Story of Qui Ju or not, but its sitting on my shelf unwrapped, I need to re-watch it and finally watch Happy Times. I’ve seen his kung fu movies, and I thought that they were all inferior to the good Shaw brothers stuff, much less Crouching Tiger.
Of Chen Kaige I only have Temptress Moon, Emperor and Assasins, Together, Life on a String, and Farewell My Concubine, and the last two are masterworks. His earlier stuff used to be hard to find, but now that I have a multi-region player, I could probably get his earlier movies from yes-asia when I get the money…
As for Yimou, I was disappointed with his Wuxia movies, and please with “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” although it was not quite the masterpiece that I had hoped for, I found it to be quite good and moving.
as for Tian Zhuangzhuang, I recall renting The Blue Kite from Blockbuster long ago, and while I remember nothing about it, it never stuck with me, could be time for a re-view, I’ve always wanted to see the Horse Thief ever since I saw it in a book called 150 masterpieces of world cinema, and Spring Time in a Small Town is sitting on my shelf, I guess I have to watch it now, but only after I finish my Mizoguchi binge that I am about to embark on…gotta watch the other 10 Mizoguchi’s that I have not seen(Ive seen 5 of his so far…)
I do love Yimou’s use of color that Myra pointed out, and I feel that he is one of the few directors who truly take full advantage of working in the age of color film stock. So many filmmakers take color for granted, but Yimou really paints with it.
I love his characters, they never seem forced, are always natural, yet memorable.
Kenji: I hope if I ever become a semi-obscure filmmaker, my name won’t be butchered in a similar manner. This is one area where I will agree with Dimitris where a western-centric film world becomes irritating and frustrating. Zhang Yimou is Zhang Yimou and Zhang Yimou only. Chen Kaige is Chen Kaige and never anything but Chen Kaige. Wong Kar-wai is Wong kar-wai. Yimou Zhang, Wong Kar-wai or Kaige Chen is just completely undermining the Chinese naming system. I appeal to all The Auteurs users to always address your favourite Chinese film personnel in the correct way.
That is all. No more derailment from me. :)
I think Hero is his greatest film along with Raise The Red Lantern and To Live, but it doesn’t seem a very loved film.
Jason, if you’ve seen 5 by Mizoguchi, that leaves 26 (at least known) still in existence, and no i’ve not seen them all, quite a few to go that aren’t easy to access. Tian Zhuangzhuang’s version of Spring in a Small Town is very good, but the original by Fei Mu (1948) is marvellous,
Its not that Important Law, you can call me Trochesset Jason if you want, so long as someone watches my movies.
If I lived in or did business in China or Japan, then I would practice these things. I don’t.
How am I supposed to know that IMDB doesn’t do it the right Chinese way, or that Yimou is not a surname, but goes last?
Yes, I agree with you, Jason, that it is not that important.
But since reordering the words is not too difficult of a task (doesn’t require any extra typing even!), I hope users will make a conscious effort to get the right names. Sorry for intruding in your thread once again.
“it is Zhang Yimou, but what’s strange is that this name order seems more commonly accepted by the West with the Chinese but not Japanese, so although some critics will say Mizoguchi Kenji, that’s still seen by many as somehow snobbish or odd.”
The so called “Eastern order”
Hungary : Lugosi Bela
Japan : Kurosawa Akira
China :Zhang Yimou
Korea :Park Chan-wook
Vietnam : Tran Anh Hung
Imdb reverses these to the “Western order”
Anh Hung Tran
zhang (or whatever i’m supposed to call him) is a great filmmaker. all the early films you guys mentioned are beautiful, some masterpieces. i havent seen any of his new films though.
I’d have to to agree with Kenji that Red Sorghum is Zhang’s masterpiece. Ju Dou, his third film, is almost as good though. His earlier films had a certain burst of robust energy that his newer films simply lack. His newer films may boast bigger production values, but they’re really basically very pretty “wire fu” martial arts flicks. Plus, his films used to challenge tradition and authority, now they’re damn near like propaganda films for the Chinese government. The guy jumped the shark loooooooong ago in my opinion.
Sure, it might be frustrating to see people’s name order butchered, but it really is confusing for non-Asians, so I think you should give people a break. Since I was born and raised in Korea and familiar with the nomenclature of the Far East, it’s not a problem for me, but it is naturally alien to Westerners. So Zhang Yi-mou’s name is usually printed with his surname “Zhang” coming first. But take a name like Ang Lee. “Lee” is his surname, but printed last as following the Western convention. So in cases like these, how is a non-East Asian person supposed to figure out that “Zhang” is the surname in the case of Zhang Yi-mou, and “Lee” is the surname in the case of Ang Lee?
Yes, we all deserve breaks. I never knew Bela Lugosi was actually Lugosi Bela. If anyone needs any clarification on filmmakers’ surnames, feel free to ask. For Chinese names, as a rule of thumb, most surnames are one character (one syllable when aglicised) and names, two characters (two syllables). As an example, let’s invent a filmmaker. His name can be found in print as Suming Chen. Chen will be his surname and Suming, his first name.
As for examples like Lee Ang, they are much less distinguishable and I guess everyone is used to seeing his name butchered up. But if you are a big fan of Lee Ang or any other two syllable-named Chinese filmmakers, a search on wikipedia will tell you what the hanyu pinyin of his name is and from there, you can deduce what his name is.
I guess I’ll need to make it a point to see Ju Dou.
I’m like Blue in that I was born in China and I’m familiar with the convention of surname first. I can understand why it would be confusing for others. It’s also hard to differentiate between surname and given name as Chinese characters when in their pinyin form can seem to be a candidate for either. I just noticed on the Auteurs that it lists Hou Hsiao-hsien as “Hsiao-hsien Hou” and Tsai Ming-liang as “Ming-liang Tsai” under the favourite auteurs list when you add them… However, it conforms with the surname first rule for Jia and Wong… I guess there’s even a discrepancy on the site.
Ju Dou is another great one that I forgot to mention earlier. Think beautiful cinematography with dyed fabrics! It’s true what Blue said, his earlier films labelled him somewhat as a dissident in the eyes of the government due to their subject matter. It provided for some great social commentary though.
@Jason: Tian’s The Blue Kite is actually still banned in China I believe due to its portrayal of the government at the time and led to the blacklisting of the director. Although Springtime in a Small Town is a good film, I urge you to seek out the 1948 original by Fei Mu (named Spring in a Small Town) as Kenji recommended. Having seen the original first, needless to say I’m rather biased toward it.
when I get some money, I surely will.
>Tian’s The Blue Kite is actually still banned in China
Really? My God.
I think Zhang’s trilogy of Red Sorghum, Judou and Raise The Red Lantern are masterpieces of world cinema. The first two, incidently, were banned in China, a situation that was reversed only after he made the Communist Party approved The Story Of Qiu Ju, a film with a contemporary theme.
Zhang is a very visual director (he DPd at least six films prior to his directorial debut with Red Sorghum) , and his use of color is extraordinary. I have enjoyed all his films at some level, but have a preference for his earlier work.
Zhang is currently shooting a remake of the Coen’s Blood Simple.
I’m a big fan of Zhang Yimou. In college, I took a class titled Chinese Film, and we got to view seven of his films. I actually haven’t seen Raise the Red Lantern, although everyone tells me I should.
Road Home, Not One Less, Ju Dou; they’re all very political. I’d even say that Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles has a social message behind it. Out of his newest movies, Hero is probably the only wuxia movie he’s made with some substance. I’m always amazed by his wonderful use of color. Take Road Home, for instance. The “present” in the storyline is black and white, the past, vivid color. For that film, which is loaded with political and social underpinnings, it works perfectly. Nobody can question the sheer visual beauty of the mise-en-scene in Zhang’s Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
My absolute favorite movie by him that I’ve seen is To Live. I’m so happy to see it being talked about on the boards a bit more. Even though it’s one of his best, I feel that so few people have actually watched it. It’s just epic, daring, heartbreaking. It punches you in the gut with raw honesty. When we screened it in our film class, people were gasping, crying, studying each shot. It was great.
He has done many great films, although I tend to prefer the work of more independent filmmakers in today’s China.
As for Zhang Yimou, I favour the more intimate, poetic and undoubtedly painful films (in the way they look at the effects of History on the individuals), mainly To Live and Raise the Red Lantern, to the latter monumental extravaganzas like Hero or Curse of the Golden Flower. He proved to be a remarkable cinematographer (just look at his work in Chen Kaige’s first film, the magnificent Red Earth) and remains one the most talented directors of today to use colour in his films. He also gives heartfelt portraits of China and the Chinese people, which I find particularly interesting.
Is JU DOU available in decent, if not fantastic, DVD? Doesn’t matter what region, but the Korean/Chinese copy I have is atrocious.
I think this film will forever be, for me, his masterpiece since it was the first I saw, in the theater, and I was blown away by the magnificent colors of the silk. And both leads were so believable. Simply my favorite Chinese movie ever.
I would like to put in a mention of the 2008 Opening Ceremonies too. That spectacular will likely never be repeated. Didn’t he have something like a $300 million budget? I must’ve downloaded 10 versions before I found a high def resolution copy that I will always enjoy watching.
I love the symmetry of Raise the Red Lantern.
I like Hero very much for its symbolism and pace. But this love has been tainted in some way. Five Chinese girls used to live across from my house and I offered to watch that movie with them as soon as I had bought it. To my great disappointment, all five girls were thoroughly bored and even scuffed at the ending… I suppose it is true then that Zhang Yimou has gotten more mainstream with time.
I don’t think writing “Yimou Zhang” in English is so bad. You want to educate people in what? That his family name is Zhang and his given name is Yimou? And that for the most part in China they speak them and write them in that order? I think you can own both answers and still write Yimou Zhang in English (and not be terribly offended by it).
I didn’t like RtRL. It’s beautiful because the castle is beautiful and Gong Li (oops) is beautiful but it’s a film about a prissy little chick fight. Big whoop. “Not One Less” is magnificent, as is “Hero”, but CotGF was horrible, imo. Zhang is a great film maker but sometimes his stories don’t appeal to me. I don’t usually like things that don’t appeal to me and hesitate to call them good just because they are done well.
I just find it arrogant and ignorant to miswrite his name if in possession of the knowledge of the proper order of his name.