“The pandemic has finally passed, and cinema has returned to normal, but the way people think has changed dramatically,” Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou concluded when quizzed by Deadline about cinema post-Covid 19 during a brief chat at the Tokyo Film Festival (TIFF).
“That is,” he continued, “people now value a peaceful and healthy life even more.”
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Zhang, one of China’s most enduring filmmakers, is in Tokyo to receive the festival’s honorary lifetime achievement award. He picked up the gong Monday at the TIFF opening ceremony held at Tokyo’s Takarazuka Theatre.
“This is like a new start for me,” Zhang said, accepting the award. He added that he has traveled to the Tokyo Film Festival twice before, but the lifetime achievement award felt like the spark of a new chapter in his career. But with what Zhang described as a dramatic change in the mentality of audiences, has his approach to filmmaking changed?
“No particular change,” he told Deadline. “If there are enough scripts, I can keep up the pace of one film a year. However, this rhythm can be easily broken. There is a lack of good scripts, so I have to write the script, but it takes at least three years to work up a good script.”
Zhang added: “In China, there is a saying that means ‘look ahead and live in moderation.’ My ideal situation is to be shooting a film while another good script is waiting for me. That is my ideal rhythm.”
Perhaps best known in the West for crossover titles such as 2016’s The Great Wall, set in Imperial China and starring Matt Damon, Zhang made his directorial debut with Red Sorghum (1987) after graduating from the Beijing Film Academy in 1982. The pic won the Golden Bear at Berlin. Since then, he has tackled a wide range of film genres in work like The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), To Live (1994), The Road Home (1999), House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Cliff Walkers (2021). He has won Venice’s Golden Lion twice. Outside filmmaking, he directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
“For a filmmaker, every film is like his or her own child, and he or she loves them all, but of course, there are good and bad films, and it is up to luck to decide which ones are good and which ones are bad,” Zhang said of his extensive filmography. “There are also many difficulties that an individual cannot overcome. That makes me say that my next film will be the best film.”
Zhang’s latest work, Full River Red, was released during the Chinese New Year this year and is currently the highest-ranking 2023 Chinese film in the country. The film has also been selected as part of the Gala Selection section at Tokyo.
The filmmaker told Deadline he recently completed his next film, Article 20.
“It will be released in February 2024,” he said of the feature. “If I must think about after the next film, there will be the problem of ‘look ahead and live in moderation.’ At the moment we don’t have an ideal script, so I think I will have to write it myself.”
The Tokyo Film Festival runs until November 1.
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