Recently, Shanghai Morning Post had a chance to
interview Zhang Yimou, the famed Chinese film director now in
charge of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic
Games. Due to a confidentiality agreement with the Beijing
Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG),
Zhang answered most questions with a "sorry." However, he still
managed to reveal some secrets about the performance, which he said
had greatly satisfied the IOC officials in the appraisal.
Q: What did Steven Spielberg do on the directing
Zhang Yimou: Steven has a deep affection for China. When I
invited him two years ago to help me bid for the directorship of
the opening and closing ceremony, he agreed happily. Now, we are
both in charge of the work team. To be frank, it is difficult for a
man as busy as he to spare time on all these trivialities, but he
still insists on participating in every brainstorm meeting. As a
foreigner, he provides us with special insight into the elements we
are not accustomed to. His opinions are extremely valuable.
Q: What programs are involved in the opening
Zhang Yimou: Including the countdown ceremony, the whole
event is expected to last three and a half hours. Currently, the
event includes the prelude, the countdown ceremony, the opening
speech, a series of entertainment programs, the flag-raising
ceremony, another series of entertainment programs, the marching
procession of athletes and the final Olympic flame ignition. Of
course, we may make some subtle adjustments at the final stage, but
that's the general picture. From this point on, any changes we make
must be examined and approved by the IOC.
Q: What is the most innovative part of the opening
Zhang Yimou: As long as you dream it, any part can be
innovative. The IOC also encourages us to give full play to our
imaginations. But of course, there are rules that we should adhere
to. For example, the march-in ceremony will take one or two hours.
Some people may feel it is too long. Can we cut it into two
sections and put in some entertainment programs like dancing or
singing? Of course we can't. On one hand, the time wouldn't permit.
On the other hand, such a change would not be approved. There is
enough room for imagination but we must remain in the basic
Q: Are you confident of the feedback from Chinese
Zhang Yimou: China has the largest number of entertainment
programs in the world. As a result, the Chinese audiences,
especially those on the Chinese mainland, have developed a growing
sentiment against the programs that stick to routines. A merely
"good" ceremony will not satisfy their needs. We are now focusing
all our efforts on providing them with a splendid party.
Q: Did the Bird Nest (National Stadium) change its
design to cope with the ceremony?
Zhang Yimou: When we started to design the opening
ceremony, the construction of the Bird Nest was in full swing. When
we finally produced the plan, the construction was almost
completed. In view of the strict deadline, the technicians and
workers at the construction site had to do many extra projects to
cope with our needs. This added a great burden on them; however,
they were always ready to help when we needed changes in the
structure of the stadium.
Q: Is there a climax during the three-and-half hour
Zhang Yimou: Of course, there will be climax, which I would like to
call the unforgettable moment. When we discussed the opening
ceremony with foreign specialists, they kept reminding me that the
event would only be an inch-wide photo in the New York
Times. Which scene would they choose? They would choose the
most magnificent and eye-catching one. It would be the whole
impression China conveyed to the rest of the world. It would also
be the only moment people could remember in years to come. Whenever
we talked about this, I told our foreign friends that we were
working hard to provide foreign journalists more options. It would
delight me largely if they had eight photos at hand but were unable
to make the choice.
Q: What will you do with all the "smiles" you collected
around the globe, now that you have already used them in the short
film to promote Beijing's Olympic bid?
Zhang Yimou: In front of the smile of the innocent
children, everyone, no matter which country or which race he or she
belongs to, will feel touched from the bottom of heart. I am sure
such a feeling is universal. As you said, I have used the method
before. But I think the Olympic games will provide us with a larger
platform to communicate with audiences. We spent a whole year
collecting smiles around the globe. You can imagine how many
families have been involved. The parents in foreign countries will
suddenly feel closer to the games when they see their children's
faces on the screen. I will choose a proper time in the opening
ceremony to show the world these happy young faces.
Q: What Chinese element will you use? You always
surprise audiences by using salient Chinese elements in your films.
Many people predict that the success of the ceremony depends on
your application of such Chinese characteristics.
Zhang Yimou: I am more concerned about the details.
Precisely, the entertainment programs last 50 minutes to one hour.
What should we provide the global audience within such a short time
span? What is the real essence of Chinese culture? It is difficult
to choose. We have invited many specialists and leading scholars
engaged in the study of Chinese culture to discuss this issue. The
elements used in the ceremony must meet two standards: First, they
must embody the profound Chinese culture; second, they must be easy
for foreigners to understand. Elements with salient Chinese feature
are easy to be found. The difficulty is how to make the foreign
audiences understand what we want to tell them. If they can't grasp
our ideas, all the efforts we made are worthless. China cherishes a
long history and a profound culture. To make people from all
corners of the globe understand our culture, we must approach the
profound in a simple and explicit way.
(China.org.cn by Chen Xia, November 1, 2007)