Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
The fifth generation
In 1984 the Chinese film industry was suddenly brought to international attention for the
first time by the arrival of the so-called “ fifth generation ” of Chinese film-makers. That
year, director Chen Kaige and his cameraman Zhang Yimou, both graduates from the first
post-Cultural Revolution class (1982) of the Beijing Film School, made the superb art-house
film Yellow Earth , which told a somewhat sobering tale of peasant life in early Communist
times. The film was not particularly well received in China, either by audiences, who expec-
ted something more modern, or by the authorities, who expected something more optimistic.
Nevertheless, it set the pattern for a series of increasingly overseas-funded films, such as The
Last Emperor and Farewell My Concubine , comprising stunning images of a “traditional”
China, irritating the censors at home and delighting audiences abroad.
Zhang Yimou
Chen Kaige's protégé Zhang Yimou was soon stealing a march on his former boss with his
first film Red Sorghum , based on the Mo Yan novel. This film was not only beautiful, and
reassuringly patriotic, but it also introduced the world to heartthrob actress GongLi . The fact
that Gong Li and Zhang Yimou were soon to be lovers added to the general media interest
in their work, both in China and abroad. They worked together on a string of hits, includ-
ing Judou , The Story of Qiu Ju , Raise the Red Lantern , Shanghai Triad and To Live . None
of these could be described as art-house in the way that Yellow Earth had been, and the po-
tent mix of Gong Li's sexuality with exotic, mysterious locations in 1930s China was clearly
targeted at Western rather than Chinese audiences. Chinese like to point out that the figure-
hugging qipao regularly worn by Gong Li are entirely unlike the period costume they purport
to represent. Zhang Yimou has since been warmly embraced by the authorities (as evidenced
by his selection as director of the Olympic ceremonies in 2008), though his films have got
The sixth generation and recent developments
In the 1990s, a new “ sixthgeneration ” of directors set out to make edgier work. Their films,
usually low-budget affairs difficult to catch in China, depict what their makers consider to be
the true story of modern urban life: cold apartments, ugly streets, impoverished people. Good
examples include Beijing Bastards and In the Heat of the Sun . Some commercial films from
this period, such as Beijing Bicycle and Spring Subway were influenced by this social realist
The most recent trends in Chinese cinema have seen continuations of the sixth-generation
patterns. The mainstream directors have become ever more influenced by Western works,
and are making big bucks in China's ever-increasing array of multiplex cinemas - in this
they've been assisted by a government that still limits the number of Hollywood films shown
each year, and pulls them from the screens in order to give home-grown films better sales.
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