Born in Nanjing in 1963, Zhang Yuan graduated from Beijing Film Academy in 1989. Being a very talented and independent filmmaker, Zhang was named one of the world's top 100 young leaders in the 21st century by Time magazine. Recently he aired his thoughts on filmmaking to Chinese netizens at sina.com.
Q: who is your favorite director?
Zhang: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the late German acclaimed filmmaker.
Q: You shot many "first" films in China, such as the first movie about disabled children, homosexuals, and Chinese Rock 'n Roll music. Are you planning to make a film about Chinese netizens?
Zhang: Somebody has already made it. It is called Love in the Internet Era. While I intend to film a new type: the Lawyer.
Q: Among the 10 films you have shot, which one is your favorite?
Zhang: These films are all of completely different styles. So, it's difficult to tell which is better. Previously, I liked shooting films in a realistic way. For instance, Son and Mama as well as Beijing Bastards, apart from being feature films, look like documentaries. So I call them documentary feature films. I've also shot many genuine documentaries, like Storms and Stress. However, recently, I found a new way to tell a story when I shot the film Green Tea (a modern love story). Maybe I will carry on the next several films using this kind of narrative method.
Q: What is your artistic ideal in filmmaking, or what do you want to tell the audience?
Zhang: I always wonder who we are, where we were from and where we are going. My friends and I all think of this. Why do we live like this, why we are the way we are?
Q: What's the relationship between the box office and the arts?
Zhang: Actually they are a unity of opposites.
Q: So maybe it's an excellent movie that doesn't do well at the box office.
Zhang: Yes, very often. Sometimes acclaimed alternative films earn little money, sometimes not.
Q: Do you think there are many films that combine well artistic value and box office?
Zhang: No, just a few.
Q: Do you intend to shoot a commercial film, like Zhang Yimou's Hero?
Q: What does childhood mean to one's life?
Zhang: Childhood may exert a significant influence on one's life. As for me, it produced a great impact on filmmaking. My childhood always reminds me of my attitude towards life. Actually I am a pessimist.
Q: What's the greatest difference do you think between the so-called fifth generation directors and the sixth generation, like shooting style, or anything else?
Zhang: In my opinion, the greatest difference is age as the fifth generation directors as you call them have changed their styles a lot. Therefore it’s difficult to classify the directors today.
Q: Some of your films have been shown abroad. How can you make foreigners understand what you want to express in your movies?
Zhang: Of course foreigners have their own cultural viewpoint in watching movies. But I think filmic language may be the simplest artistic language that lets people from all over the world communicate with each other. By watching a movie, you can easily know how people live in different countries. When you see many films at a film festival or film exhibition, you will find that everyone's life is interlinked in some respects. Some people even share the same living conditions. Film provides a good opportunity for people to understand each other.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of Chinese directors compared to foreign filmmakers? And what is the difference between Chinese film and foreign film?
Zhang: I think Chinese and foreign directors are all the same. As to the foreign film industry, they have good films, and so do we. If China's filmmaking policy is much opened with more investment put in, I believe this will be more attractive for Chinese film. We have a long cultural history. And we are in the period of social transformation, so it's time for good films to be made.
Q: What do you think of the film rating system? After China's implementing the rating system, will your work be much opened?
Zhang: Of course, yes. Film rating must be carried out without delay in China. I don't expect teenagers to see the film East Palace West Palace that I shot. I hope the filmgoers are above 18 for this kind of movie because they’ve had the ability to make judgments for their own directions and feelings.
Q: It is reported that you are going to join in the competition in next year's Oscar Awards with your latest film Green Tea. Is that true?
Zhang: You know, the Oscars are a domestic academy award in the US and the only award it provides for other countries is the best foreign language film. Before the final selection, every government would recommend a film to represent its country to join in the competition.
Q: That is to say Green Tee has been submitted for further examination?
Zhang: Yes. I hope it can represent China to compete for the best foreign language film in next year's Oscar awards.
Q: How do you describe love in Green Tea?
Zhang: I am trying to tell people that there is a kind of love – uninterrupted, seeking and searching, continually asking why.
Q: There is one line in the movie: "Sometimes fate is just like two or three old tea leaves". Can you explain?
Zhang: Yes, usually people think of themselves as strong. Actually in life, people are sometimes just like tea leaves. When the water is poured into the cup, you have no idea if they, or you, are going to float on the water or sink to the bottom. Sometimes you don't know what you are going to do or how life will turn out.
Q: Is there anything in the movie that makes you regretful?
Zhang: In fact, film is the art of regret.
Q: What do you think of love?
Zhang: Love is always a mystery for me, while I pursue it from beginning to end.
(China.org.cn translated by Li Xiao, September 19, 2003)