Saturday, August 09, 2008

China's Olympic Opening Directed by Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou at press conference the day after the opening.

Okay. You read the title of this post and asked, Zhang Yimou, who? He was the chief director for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing, China, yesterday. Zhang Yimou (pronounced Yee-Mo), is one of China's best filmmakers in the so-called "fifth generation." He is my favorite, and he does not make films in English, only in Mandarin, unlike Taiwan's Ang Lee (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN), my second favorite Chinese director.

Hint: In China the last names are first. So, Zhang Yimou's given name, Yimou, is written last while his sir name, Zhang, is first. Articles in Chinese newspapers write it that way, and the IMDb often does too, but the name is generally reversed for English speakers, e.g. Yimou Zhang. In China, Ang Lee's name is written Lee Ang. So check both ways when searching on the Web.

Did you see the Olympic opening ceremony yesterday? If you didn't you will have to wait for the DVD to enjoy the synchronized performances of hundreds of people in the high tech extravaganza, that was an amazing live performance. In every Olympiad the opening ceremony grows more spectacular.

I wish to salute Zhang for his own conceived and fantastically directed production. Unfortunately, no one did at the opening. Perhaps, someone will at the closing. He will be directing that also, as he will the ceremonies for the Paralympics that follow these games, also in Beijing. As he said at a press conference today, "Yesterday was only the beginning."

Have you seen any of Zhang Yimou's movies? The first one I saw was RED SORGHUM with his favorite leading lady - - in his movies as she used to be in his real life, gorgeous Gong Li. Then, I saw RAISE THE RED LANTERN, and I was hooked.

Yesterday, in the opening ceremony Zhang included a giant yellow ball that morphed into a red Chinese lantern and, in turn, into the globe of the world. The red lantern = China, the globe = one world, only two of the symbols in the ceremony that represented the slogan for this year's Olympiad: One World, One Dream.

On top of that revolving globe Sarah Brightman, and China's current favorite male pop singer Liu Huan, sang "You and Me," the official song of this year's Olympics. Theirs was only one of many beautiful musical moments accompanied by the Beijing Ceremony Symphony. I hear the CD is in stores now.

Three of Zhang's movies have received Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominations, JU DOU, RAISE THE RED LANTERN, and HERO, but he has never taken home the statuette. I think it is because his movies are iconic Chinese, and Americans just don't know enough about China to understand them as well as they do the movies of "
westernized" Taiwanese director Ang Lee.

Don't get me wrong. I like Ang Lee's movies, too. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is spectacular and won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, but it isn't as folk-centered as Zhang's HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. Ang Lee's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN won a best picture Oscar and one for Lee's directing.

On the other hand, when Lee tried sex as a subject in LUST, CAUTION, he failed. His approach was a bit too raw for most Americans. Zang's earlier movie, SHANGHAI TRIAD, is less raw with more subtlety, and is sexier, but he doesn't have the "name recognition" in the U.S. that Lee has.

Lee is Taiwanese and Zhang is mainland China. The latter's geographic location doesn't cut as much favor in Hollywood as Taiwan. Lee is definitely a more commercial (box office-favored) director than Zhang, but if you, like me, fell in love with the China of Pearl Buck in her book The Good Earth, get that sensation again each time you view a Zang Yimou movie.

I have seen all the movies mentioned above, plus Zhang's THE STORY OF QIU JU, and CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. My favorite Ang Lee Chinese movie is CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. I simply can't pick a favorite Zhang movie. They are that good! Zhang's filmography on Fandango.

The numbers are in and the Olympic opening night ceremony on NBC averaged 34.2 million households in the U.S., the biggest audience ever for an Olympic opening ceremony not held in the U.S., Nielsen Media Research reported. It eclipsed this year's Academy Awards, and the finale of "American Idol," making it the biggest television event since this year's Super Bowl. The summer Olympics in Athens four years ago averaged 25.4 million households for its first night. Sydney in 2000 had 27.3 million.

The Web site registered 70 million page views on Friday, its heaviest traffic ever. The site did not post videos, but did post still pictures. The estimated statistics for world-wide television (Internet) viewership of the opening have not yet been announced, but the count is expected to approach one billion viewers.

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