It’s been a momentous week for Chinese director Zhang Yimou. The Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) and FIAPF-International Federation of Film Producers Associations announced that the prolific (and often times controversial) director will be this year’s recipient of the FIAPF Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film in the Asia-Pacific region. The honor will be awarded at the fifth annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards ceremony on Australia's Gold Coast on November 24.
The director’s previous achievements include the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, two BAFTA awards, Silver and Golden Lions at Venice and Berlin's Silver and Golden Bear. Zhang’s “Ju Dou” became China's first Academy Award-nominated film in the Best Foreign Film category in 1991 followed directly by his next film “Raise the Red Lantern.” The director’s latest offering, “The Flowers of War” has already been selected as China's official foreign language entry for this year’s Academy Awards.
Yesterday’s announcement that Wrekin Hill Entertainment, in association with Row 1 Productions, picked up the North American rights for the war epic starring Christian Bale and Shigeo Kobayashi means that the film will be vying for a larger presence at the Academy Awards. It is set to open wide in China on December 16th followed by an Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco beginning in late December.
Set against the backdrop of the Rape of Nanking during the Sino-Japanese War, “The Flowers of War” follows the story of John Miller (Bale), an American who poses as a priest when he is trapped amidst the chaos of battle, and the ensuing occupation, a group of innocent school girls and 13 courtesans, "all equally determined to escape the horrors taking place outside the church walls," as the press release puts it. The hope will likely be to position Bale for Best Actor consideration and/or Zhang for Best Director.
Known for his vivid use of color and his storied history with the Chinese government, Zhang is the most significant, lauded and contested member of China’s “Fifth Generation” of filmmakers. His films were once banned for their subtle and overt use of metaphor to criticize China’s Communist leadership. The filmmaker was prevented from attending the Cannes Film Festival in 1994 to accept the grand jury prize for “To Live,” which highlighted the cost to the individual in Mao’s campaign for power. Zhang, the dissenter, was said (by some) to betray those loyal to him with the release of 2002s “Hero,” which many felt celebrated the ideals of the Communist party with its emphasis on the importance of a unified China. But there are those that feel that 2004's “House of Flying Daggers” reaffirmed Zhang's politics and emphasis on the individual.
It should be noted that Zhang’s films have enjoyed both critical and box office success in China, that the government chose him to direct the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies and that “The Flowers of War” represents China’s most expensive film to date.
Zhang Yimou’s place in cinema history is already well established, but the release of “The Flowers of War” may provide the director long-awaited Oscar exposure outside the Best Foreign Language Film category.
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