Sun Zhou is a fifth generation Chinese film director. In the 1980s, when most directors were devoted to filming deserts and plateaus, Sun Zhou focused his camera on the ordinary people of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, an area at the very forefront of China's implementation of reform and opening-up. At this time, he established a film production style that was widely practiced in Guangdong Province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. In the 1999, after a decade of silence, Zhou once again took his place among China's first-class film directors with his film Pretty Mother.
Sun Zhou was born into an intellectual family in Shandong Province in the 1950s. Heavily influenced by his family, Sun fell in love with the arts, especially photography. After graduating from high school, he joined the army, where he became a professional photographer; thus laying a solid foundation for his future career.
In 1983, Sun Zhou, then a director at the Shandong TV Station, finished his first TV drama, There Will Be Thunderous Snow Tonight, which made him famous overnight. Sun, however, loved film more than TV and quit his job to study film direction at the Beijing Film Academy, and by the end of 1986, began directing films at the Guangzhou Pearl River Film Studio.
In the 1980s, Guangzhou was at the very forefront of China's implementation of reform and opening-up and a leader in economic growth in the country. Although his films won many awards, he soon realized that the mind-set of Beijingers was quite different from that of the Cantonese.
"People in Guangzhou don't take notice of how famous you are or how many famous films you have directed," remarked Sun. "You have to work to make a living and produce something of economic value before people look at you and say, 'Oh, you're somebody.'"
"It was tough," Sun continued. "With no funds and no income, I lived from hand to mouth. I would shut myself in my room and eat one meal a day, which usually consisted of fast food for 5 yuan."
In 1992, it was by chance that a friend told Sun about an ad campaign for toothpaste. Curious, Sun gave the job a go and found it amazing. "I was doing something that could make me some money," he said. Over time, he felt more comfortable with his new job and became creative in his work, joining the first group of ad directors in the country since China's implementation of reform and opening-up.
Although Sun worked in ad production for eight years, he never ignored his passion for filmmaking. He also never complained about his work situation, because he was fully aware that his career was at a turning point.
"I was lost when I was away from film production," recalled Sun. "It was Chen Kaige (a famous Chinese director) and Gong Li who woke me up and gave me a push. They, as well as my career, mean a lot to me."
In 1998, Sun Zhou played Dan, a crown prince of the State of Yan, in The Emperor and the Assassin directed by Chen Kaige. It was at this time that Chen and Gong encouraged Sun to go back to making films.
After thorough planning and preparation, Sun began to film Pretty Mother in Beijing, with Gong Li in the leading role. The film was a success thanks to Gong's participation and support. Later, the two teamed up again in Zhou Yu's Train, which was especially tailored for Gong Li.
In recent years, more and more of Sun's work tends to praise women. "I'm inclined to look at the world from a woman's angle." Remarked Sun. "I adore women and admire them for their tolerance, benevolence, and motherhood, which I have experienced, firsthand, through my mother and sisters, as well as those that have greatly influenced my life. My system of belief comes from my experiences, which also inspire my work."
Zhou Yu's Train made Sun Zhou examine his inner self once again: "Since I'm back, I must be serious about my beloved film."
(China Pictorial July 11, 2003)