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Zhang Yimou Makes 'Breakthrough' into Tourism Promotion

Hundreds of bamboo-made boats float on the clear water, candle light sparkles with the moon and stars, thousands of people dressed in Chinese minority ethnic costumes hum a folk song.


This has been a daily scenario Chinese film hero Zhang Yimou created a year ago -- an outdoor performance placing its setting in real mountains and rivers in Yangshuo, world-renowned scenic resort in Guilin of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


"I have had great fun doing this, as local people and tourists there all enjoyed the show," Zhang told Xinhua, indicating all the actors in the performance were hired locally.


Other than directing films which have brought him world fame, Zhang is so fascinated with this new form of visual arts that he will put on similar show in Lijiang City of Southwest Yunnan Province, a world-natural-heritage teemed with tourists from home and abroad, in October this year.


His zeal about the new activity is so evident that he took the initiative to meet Xinhua and several other Chinese media earlier this week to talk about his show in Yangshuo of Guilin and the next show in Lijiang, contrasting with his habitual refusal to do press interviews about his movies, including his blockbuster Hero.



"The seats for the Yangshuo outdoor show have been raised from 1,800 a year ago to 2,500 today, and extra performances are also staged quite often at the request of tourists," he said.


An official in Yangshuo was quoted as saying that the performance itself has boosted the local GDP by two percentage points since Zhang's reputation is no doubt the best advertisement for it.


Zhang has been named by the US-based Entertainment Weekly as one of the 20 greatest contemporary directors in the world.


"The day-on-day show could be given with tickets sold out, that is good enough for me, since the market can prove the true value of an artist," Zhang said, noting he had no idea of the market value of the performance "in terms of hard cash."


"Success strikes home at the problem troubling almost all in the Chinese artistic circle, that is, how to balance art and entertainment in a market-oriented system," Zhang said with a sense of pride.


Such smiles from Zhang are also rare. Just like he seldom grants interviews, he seldom comments on his own films other than the four words: let the audience tell.


According to Wang Chaoge, a rising woman director and Zhang's personal assistant, after careful inspection and research, Zhang finally picked Lijiang out of a dozen candidate cities. "He will never say 'OK' if nothing special or new has been found," she said.


No details on the new show were disclosed but Zhang assured that it will not be a duplicate of his early works.


"I had my first feature film as late as when I was 37, so I've got no time to duplicate." Almost on every possible occasion, Zhang has recalled his "slower process than usual toward artistic maturity".


In 1982, about 100 students graduated from China's only film school, the Beijing Film Academy (BFA). Among them was the then 32-year-old cinematographer, Zhang Yimou, a native of northwestern China’s Shaan'xi Province, who was admitted to the Beijing Film Academy in 1978.


This group of BFA graduates was later collectively called "The Fifth Generation" of filmmakers, whose works differ from the previous generations of 1905-32, 1932-49, 1950-1960, and 1960-80 in both style and content. Zhang is indisputably one of the most acclaimed Fifth Generation filmmakers.



From his first film, Red Sorghum, to his last one Qian Li Zou Dan Ji, he was always notable in dowing away with the rules of his contemporaries by using Chinese stars, yet all "recognizable faces" he has employed have become international super stars, such as Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi. Ever since the birth of Red Sorghum, his films have been said to have "rebellious spirit" and "exotic flavor" by Western critics, and have also been identified as a good Chinese brand to sell.


Since he broadened his palette to include martial arts movies compliments have abounded. In 2004, his martial arts films House of Flying Daggers and Hero were both included in the list of Top Ten Films of the year by the US-based Associated Press.


However, when he turned his attention to things outside of the film industry, such as the bidding project for the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 and the outdoor performance, accusations arose that Zhang had run out of his cinematic talent.


"Film will always be my core business, forever," he told Xinhua with a confident tone. "I'm still in high spirit for breakthroughs, such as the outdoor performances. They could give me experiences totally different from film shooting."


Zhang explained that when a martial art movie is made, a director's way of looking at things and thinking will little by little distance him from real life, since you can work out anything only by imagining and without stepping out of a room. And as time goes by, an established director's film will more or less carry his personal impression of life, and a film will fall into a narrative of his private thinking.


"And that is the limit of film," he said.


Zhang would rather "transplant" his filming skills to a wider range of subjects, added Fan Yue, another companion to Zhang,


"Outdoor performance demands that you keep in touch and have a dialogue with the sky, water, nature and people," Zhang said, adding that every tiny bit of the performance was inspired from the local people's daily life and work.


Zhang said he is taking the opportunity in this project to "go further" and "come closer" to life. His style of making outdoor performances is the same as in his camera work. In his second outdoor performance, he chose the Yulong Jokul as the background image on the stage. Lijiang River lies at the foot of the jokul.


"Whatever the weather is like, the snow mountain will magically give you a scene beyond words," he said, with full complacency.


Zhang's latest film Qianli Zou Dan Ji was also shot in Lijiang. The film had a budget of 60 million yuan (around US$7 million), which is much smaller than his previous films. Set in the 1920s, the film tells the story of a Japanese man who accompanies his dying son to learn about the local opera in Yunnan Province. There they meet a girl who the young man falls in love with.


Literally, Qian Li Zou Dan Ji means lonely ride over a long distance. The title comes from the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The film is reported to mark a return to Zhang's earlier style focusing on human values and ordinary life.


During the shooting, Zhang was found walking alone along the small paths plated with blue stones every morning, in deep meditation as usual. He would also observe local people, who dress in colorful ethnic costumes and get up early for work.


"I love waiting for the sight of the mountain when the first sunlight sheds on its peak," Zhang said excitedly, stretching his arms and once again showing a full grin.


"It's just like a chemical reaction, when you experience the changing sight of the jokul and understand the passage of time," Zhang said.


At the request of one journalist, Zhang and his peers imagined a picture for his next outdoor performance. Letting the others speak first, he added only one thing to it.


"A rose-color jokul, marvelous," he said, in a romantic expression.


(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2005)

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