Beijing 2022 opening ceremony will be historic, says director

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A bird's-eye view of the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest. [Photo/Xinhua]

Expect a Beijing 2022 opening ceremony that is "different" from that of the 2008 Games with a way of cauldron lighting "unprecedented in the over 100-year history of the Olympic Games," as disclosed by chief director Zhang Yimou.

Zhang, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies for Beijing's 2008 Games, will be behind the wheel again for the ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Xinhua learned on Friday.

The 71-year-old thus become the first man to direct both Summer and Winter Games ceremonies as Beijing makes history as the first dual Olympic city.

"It's a great honor to direct the opening ceremony for the second time," Zhang told Xinhua in an exclusive interview, adding that "the burden is very heavy."

"I hope to make a good impression and create some wonderful moments that will go down in history," he said.


An elite of the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, Zhang had already made himself known with three Academy Awards nominations for Best Foreign Language Film for Ju Dou (1990), Raise the Red Lantern (1991), and Hero (2003) among other prizes and recognitions.

The scintillating opening ceremony of the 2008 Games added to his prestige. He also masterminded Beijing's eight-minute handover performances at Athens 2004 and PyeongChang 2018.

It is because of these profiles that the BOCOG decided to appoint him again, according to Chang Yu, director of BOCOG's opening and closing ceremonies department.

"Director Zhang Yimou created the impressive 2008 Games opening ceremony that wowed the world. In 2017, we hired him to take charge of the eight minutes in Beijing, and he was able to present the world a different China in such a limited time with a well-received show. Therefore, when we decided on the chief director in 2019, we chose him again after careful deliberation," said Chang.

Despite the highly-rated 2008 masterpiece, Zhang never thought of repeating it.

"I think a lot of classics cannot be duplicated. They happen only once," said Zhang.

"Of course, we know that we cannot repeat Beijing 2008, so we are striving to be different from it."

Besides incorporating characteristics of the Winter Olympics and winter sports to the opening ceremony this time, Zhang pointed out that the theme will not be the same.

"In 2008, the Olympic was a brilliant stage and chance for our country to show ourselves. In fact, there are a plenty of pages across our 5,000-year history that we would like to present to the world. Our civilization, our history, and how we got to where we are today," he recalled.

"It's different now. China's status in the world, the image of the Chinese, and the rise of our national status, everything is totally different now."

"In the wake of the pandemic, the world needs a new and strengthened vision, that is, people of the world come together to face difficulties and look forward to a bright future," said Zhang, referring to the change of the Olympic Motto which added "Together" to "Faster, Higher and Stronger."

Therefore, challenging as it is, Zhang is determined to present a "different and unique" opening to the 2022 Games.

"The era is different, so is the public's perspective. Also, the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics are different, so I will let go of that burden and start from zero," the 70-year-old said.


In line with Beijing's efforts to stage a "simple, safe and splendid" Games, the opening ceremony will observe the same principle, according to Zhang.

There will not be large-scale performance that stretch for a long time. The number of performers is cut from 15,000 in 2008 to 3,000, with length shorted to less than 100 minutes due to cold weather and the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the quality will not be affected by the decrease in quantity.

"Being simple, just as in martial arts films, is like a master's sword. All his spirit is focused on the tip of the sword, and the power of his stab is different. It looks like a very simple stab, but with fateful power," Zhang explained.

After the plan for the opening ceremony was finalized in May 2021 and stage design ready by October, performers began rehearsals in the National Stadium, or the 'Bird Nest', and will make use of the final month to get ready for the eventual gala.

As a much, if not the most anticipated part of the opening ceremony, how the main cauldron will be lit always attract wild guesses. Zhang revealed that his team came up with "a bold idea for the lighting and the design of the main cauldron."

"This time the way of lighting will certainly be different. It's a major reform of this opening ceremony. It will be unprecedented in the over 100-year history of the Olympic Games," he said.

He hinted that the design was in line with the concept of environmental protection and low carbon emission, but refused to give more clues, saying "it's a secret."

"I'm very nervous. I think it's totally innovative and people will be surprised," he confessed, before expressing gratitude for the BOCOG and the International Olympic Committee for support.


Speaking of his expectations for the opening ceremony, Zhang said he was concerned about "people's participation," which is "a major goal of hosting the Olympic Games."

"Not just athletes and professionals winning gold medals and achieving amazing things, but getting more people to participate in sports," he said. "It's always about the people. The spirit, emotion and hope are always the key points."

In the past seven years since Beijing's successful bid, China has fulfilled its promise to engage 300 million people in winter sports, a powerful push in promoting winter sports in a global landscape.

The opening ceremony will also be of a mass character, with some performers coming from schools and grassroots arts groups. Representatives of all works of life will be part of the ceremonial activities.

"I think the expressions of happiness, health, spirit, self-confidence and inspiration are very important. We also emphasize participation in many ways this time," Zhang said.

The chief director mentioned that COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes in the world and China is faced with a new and complicated international situation. That's why he hoped to present genuine thoughts of the Chinese people through the Olympic stage.

"What the Winter Olympics show is the Chinese people's confidence, pride, love and affection for the people of the world - our great philosophy and values.

"If we can showcase that in an artistic, emotional, and subtle way through the Olympic opening ceremony, so that people can see the real inner thoughts of Chinese people, that will be very meaningful," he concluded.

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