Zhang for the Memories…of the Cultural Revolution


The celebrated Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who orchestrated the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, dishes on why the London games won't stack up:

"I often joke with (foreign interviewers) and say that our level of human performance is second in the world," he said. "Number one is North Korea. Their performances are totally uniform, and uniformity in this way brings beauty. We Chinese can do it too. After hard training and strict discipline, Chinese achieve that as well."

By contrast, he found working in the west, where he has been artistic director for a number of opera performances, something of a shock.

"It was so troublesome," he said. "They only work four and a half days each week. Every day there are two coffee breaks, and no-one can suffer any discomfort because of human rights.

"This caused me no end of worry. One week, I thought everything had been rehearsed completely without any problems, but in fact they could not even stand in straight lines.

"You couldn't criticize them either. They all belong to organizations—some kind of institutions, unions. We do not have that. We can work very hard, and can put up with a lot of pain.

"We can achieve in one week what they can achieve in one month. That's the reason our performers give such brilliant performances. I think other than North Korea, no other country anywhere in the world can achieve this."

What makes this all the more stunning (and perhaps understandable) is Zhang's history:

Zhang was once regarded as a subversive, celebrated for making gritty "real life" films about life in China's rural provinces or beautiful but bitter dramas such as "Raise the Red Lantern", which won numerous awards in the West.

His films were censored and banned, but in more recent years he has come back into favour with the Communist Party. His latest films have been historical blockbusters, which often seem to have messages supporting the idea of strong leaders and state power.

[In an interview with a Chinese paper], he described how the opening ceremony rehearsals received repeated visits from "dozens" of state leaders who all demanded corrections and modifications, to the annoyance of other performers and directors.

"You do not have a chance to talk back. It is impossible to explain or reply, and you can't say, 'This opinion is not a good one, so let's not listen to it.' So what can you do? You must be clear-headed," he said.

More here, courtesy of the UK Telegraph.