Director: Zhang Yang (2005)
Beijing-born director Zhang Yang's films typically tell ordinary stories with warm and delicate details.
Following the success of his previous three movies (Spicy Love Soup, Shower and Yesterday), Sunflower is the fruit of Zhang Yang's most painstaking work.
Heavily based on his own personal experiences, the screenplay took two years for Zhang to finish. The story revolves around the relationship between a father and son in an ordinary Beijing family over three periods – childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Beginning in the 1970s, the film begins with Xiangyang's father returning home from a labor camp.
On the way, he comes across his young son, whom he has not seen for six years. As the two become reacquainted, the father, a former painter whose hands were hurt in the labor camp, places all of his hope on the talents of his young son, whom he strictly trains to follow in his footsteps. Thus the seeds of tension in their relationship are sown, and for the rest of their lives, the father suppresses while the son rebels, resulting in a continually strained relationship.
Zhang Yang's own father, Zhang Huaxun (The Mysterious Buddha), was also a film director and a pioneer of Chinese martial art movies. Like the father in Sunflower, he suffered a lot during China's turbulent years and his career did not go smoothly. During the premiere, the old director was moved to tears by his son's depiction of him on the screen. "In any family, the relationship between father and son is the most tense and subtle," explains Zhang Yang. "The father stands for the intellectuals of the old generation that once experienced hard times in those days, and the son is the member of new generation growing up in a changing world. The conflict between the two personas is the conflict between two generations."
Sunflower is indeed touching. Zhang Yang adds that though he has watched his own movie many times, he is still moved by certain scenes – particularly the birth scene, which was shot onsite in the Haidian Obstetrical and Gynaecological Hospital. "Every time I watch this scene, I can't help but feel excited," says Zhang. "During another scene, the actors were having trouble expressing their feelings, so I read a long letter written to me by my father two years ago, which I always keep in my pocket. The entire crew was moved to tears."
To be sure, the father's character in Sunflower is of a very typical depiction of a typical Chinese patriarch: irritable, strict and arbitrary, but with a deep love for his son in his heart. Perhaps that is why it is most fitting that the film ends with one simple statement: "Dedicated to our father."
(That's Beijing December 6, 2005)