China's leading film director Zhang Yimou opened his second outdoor production on Sunday at the foot of southwestern China's Yulongxue (Jade Dragon Snow) Mountain.
Around 500 local people from 10 ethnic groups were selected from 16 towns and villages in Lijiang of Yunnan Province to perform folk songs, dances and rituals for visitors daily.
The performances were "innovatively" staged in the morning, said Zhang, who spent two years producing this one-hour outdoor show entitled Impression Lijiang.
The performances start with more than 400 male entertainers in their traditional ethnic group costumes shouting at the sky, "we are farmers, we are stars!"
Unlike indoor or evening performances where lighting can be cleverly used to hide many things outdoor performances in daylight leave absolutely no room for error or "artistic decoration or artificial disguise," Zhang explained.
"No one has dared before to put on an outdoor performance during the day," Zhang said. "I made the decision after in depth investigations."
Zhang's assistant Wang Chaoge explained the production had been discussed hundreds of times and thoroughly rehearsed before being staged. All the music, songs and dances had been artistically produced to reflect the daily lives of people.
When his production went into final rehearsals two months ago Zhang felt it deserved a score of 80-100. And he freely admits that he's been deeply moved several times during performances. Zhang believes he has successfully "accomplished a dialogue with nature" with the outdoor production.
Another assistant Fan Yue said the success of the production lay in local customs and culture. More than 99 percent of the audience interviewed said they had seen nothing like it before and almost all had been "moved" or "inspired," Fan added.
"The folk customs and culture of minority ethnic groups gave me the confidence to attempt outdoor performances," Zhang said. "I'm picky with my projects," he said. "But this time I'm touched by the passion and warmth of the folk people and 100 percent satisfied with their performances."
Impression Lijiang is estimated to have cost US$31 million in total. The performances at the foot of the snow-capped mountain are the first part with another segment called Ancient City Impression to be staged perhaps in 2007 at the Dayan Ancient Town which is a world heritage site.
Zhang, as a representative figure of the 5th generation of Chinese directors, established his fame at the age of 37 with the Red Sorghum which gives a vivid portrayal of the lives of Chinese farmers. He has been active in directing a range of other visual arts projects in recent years.
In 2003 Zhang, Wang and Fan created the first installment of their outdoor Impression series, Impression Liu Sanjie, with the mountain and river scenery of Yangshuo as a backdrop. It's a world-renowned scenic beauty spot in south China. The show proved to be a hit at the box office.
By the end of this June performances attracted more than one million people and annually took in nearly 100 million yuan (around US$12. 5 million).
In recent years though, Zhang has been criticized, as "stepping away from common life" because of his martial arts films which are perhaps best represented by Hero.
"The outdoor performances touch me by the beauty of nature and the land," Zhang said. His remarks echoed the views of some insiders' who said the performances had drawn him back into what he does best.