I have always been puzzled that Zhang Yimou’s films have not received proper recognition in the United States. IMHO, Yimou is the greatest filmmaker on this earth, and Gong Li, his former muse, the greatest actress of her generation. Li can be seen in his first film, Red Sorghum, in Raise the Red Lantern, a more renowned film, and To Live, an indictment of policies and campaigns of the Communist government. To Live was banned in mainland China by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television. This film was and is a tribute to Yimou’s courage. It was was banned in mainland China by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television due to its critical portrayal of various policies and campaigns of the Communist government.
I have seen every film Yimou has ever made, and when Gong Li was his star, I would say to myself, “She makes Meryl Streep look like an amateur.” Li could convey, with the subtlest of glances, a world of emotion and mystery. Yimou has always taken on feminist themes, something most American filmmakers have not. To illustrate, ponder the machismo works of Scorsese, Coppola, and Kubrick, all filmmakers to applaud and whose work I enjoy. However, do they take on the inherent destructiveness of polygamy (Raise the Red Lantern)? And do their films universally embody strong female characters (think of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, To Live, The Flowers of War, and now The Great Wall)?
I have not yet seen the machismo of American film directors in any of Yimou’s films. I don’t think there is an American director who appeals to the feminist side of me more than Yimou. Add to this colorful and dramatic cinematography, the best film editing, wondrous musical scores, and the most perfectly directed cast and casting (I know, redundant but I had to say it that way to make my point), and I just don’t see the problem with a big film such as The Great Wall.
I took it for what it was — a legendary fantastical film about fighting monsters on China’s Great Wall. I would have thought any film made by an American filmmaker about the Great Wall would have a militaristic and machismo theme with few female warriors, if any. The Great Wall was a spectacular sight to behold, and I feel a great urge to write to Yimou to thank him for all that he has done for filmmaking. And to say, “I’m sorry, dude, but Americans just don’t get you. If it counts at all, I do!
I think it is absolutely no accident that Donald Trump has felt free to criticize Chinese policies out of envy for all that the Chinese have accomplished. Criticism of their system of government, draconian perhaps yes, cannot be made without also condemning the flaws and hypocrisy of the American political system. Chinese artists are not responsible for their system of government. The Great Wall made me want to learn more about Chinese history and culture, something that is addressed in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series of books, an historical reimagining of the Napoleonic era complete with aerial corps of flying dragons.
As an aside, iIn Novik’s books, the Chinese treat sentient dragons with respect and honor and dignity; the English treat sentient creatures no better than dogs to be used only for their own militaristic ends and hegemony. There is something to Novik’s point of view. Her books are worth a read, by the way, and the great director Peter Jackson has optioned the series; I hope he goes ahead with the project(s). There are seven to eight books in all. If you like fantasy, heroism, and the love of an ultimate companion, a sentient dragon, you ought to take a look at Novik’s work. If Jackson doesn’t make the series, perhaps Yimou will?
If I had to make a list of the people I’d want to sit down for lunch with (for about a week), Zhang Yimou would be at the very top of that list. Perhaps I can get him to join the Over-Rateds. Qu’est-ce que tu penses?