The stage is set for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With a lavish ceremony with fire works, music, artistic performances and dances, China wants to showcase its culture to the world. The star film director Zhang Yimou, best known for his feature films, such as Raise the Red Lantern and Hero has been chosen to direct the opening ceremony.
Fireworks light up the National Stadium during the rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics
The film ‘Hero’ was Zhang Yimou’s major commercial breakthrough in China and the U.S. It earned him widespread critical acclaim, the 2003 Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. And something much more important for him: recognition by the Communist Party.
The 57 year old film maker belongs to China’s so-called 5th Generation film makers. The group comprises filmmakers, who began making films after Mao's Cultural Revolution. They dared to challenge Chinese censorship and highlighted themes of social and political oppression. This is why some of Zhang’s films are still forbidden in China.
In the West, Zhang Yimou became known in the late eighties and early nineties with films such as "Red Sorghum", "Ju Dou" or the "Raise the Red Lantern". He has also been credited for his major discovery, the internationally acclaimed actress Gong Li.
The combination of powerful images, sophisticated battle scenes and outstanding actors has been the reason for many of his recent cinema successes. His cinematic oeuvre ranges from martial-arts films and comedies to Road movies and documentaries. He has also tried his hand at stage performance and is known for his star studded musical opera called Puccini’s Turandot, which was performed at the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1995.
Going for a perfect start
No wonder the Chinese government selected him for the huge task of directing the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games. Together with an organizing committee, Zhang has been working for months now to give a perfect start to the Games at the magnificent National stadium called the Bird Nest.
He will also organise the closing ceremony. “We have very carefully observed the performances and opening ceremonies of previous Olympic Games and tried to learn from the best parts. We hope to combine this with the elements of Chinese culture. We want the opening ceremony in Beijing to become the best ever,” says Zhang.
In 2001, Zhang directed a short film to promote Beijing's Olympic bid. The film titled "New Beijing, New Olympics" was presented to the IOC. Obviously the film proved to be effective and China won the bidding. Revealing some secrets about the opening ceremony Zhang says, “As you all know from my films, I appreciate the colour red very much. I think it will suit the Olympic Stadium very well. That is why red at the opening ceremony will certainly play a role."
Portraying Chinese history
But Zhang’s efforts are not less than a Herculean task. He aims to present a complete picture of China’s ages-old history and civilization to the viewers. “It is absolutely impossible to depict our 5000 year old history in a fifty minutes long performance. I hope that we can deliver something which portrays humanity, the emotional sides, something that connects us to the whole world, something which is simple to understand,” explains Zhang.
An estimated 90,000 people at the stadium and around four billion television viewers across the world are expected to follow this three and half hour long extravaganza. And with 15,000 performers and thousands of fireworks it promises to be an unprecedented event for not just director Zhang Yimou but the whole of the People’s Republic.