At the premiere of "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" in Lijiang of Yunnan Province last weekend, director Zhang Yimou spoke to China Daily about his latest movie.
Q: Many people feel that your latest production is a film that examines and explores the inner worlds. What exactly did you want to convey to the audience?
A: I talked extensively about this with the screenwriters. The first layer of the film features affection and communication between people. There is also a sense of sadness, loss, and solitude brought out in the movie.
But we had other intentions. We hope the film will evoke similar emotions in the audience, causing them to think about emotions that go beyond borders and cultures and are common to all people. That is what the mask in the film represents that you should take off your mask to reveal your true self. We hope that by telling a moving story, the film will have the power to provoke people to think.
We exchanged views with Takakura Ken, who offered us great advice. He shared many of his thoughts and life experiences with us, which were extremely valuable in helping us complete this movie.
Q: After shooting the two mega-budget productions, you return to direct this smaller-budget literary film. Have the previous two big-hit movies influenced this film at all?
A: Actually I decided to direct this movie before "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." Zou Jingzhi (the screenwriter) began writing the play before "Hero" came out. It is just a coincidence that this movie has come out after the other two.
The media will call it "a return," but for a director, the change in genres is only a change in the way of creation. Every director hopes to try out different styles, just like we like various foods to satisfy our palate.
I have never thought about adding fancy commercial elements into "Riding." But there is one thing for sure the most essential "commercial element" in all movies is true sentiment. Whether blockbusters or low-budget productions, the movie convey real sentiment. This is certainly the most important commercial element.
Q: "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" are quite controversial and received mixed reviews. However, so far all the reviews on "Riding" are favourable. What are your expectations for its success at the box-office?
A: Predicting box-office success is the one thing I'm least good at. Of course I hope my movie will be watched by more people and make money, but "Riding" is only a literary film. I hope it will hit the box-office record for literary films.
Q: The premiere ceremony of "Riding," like those of "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers," is very impressive.
A: Marketing and distribution had been my weakest point in my years of moviemaking. Luckily I met New Picture (Beijing New Picture Film Co, the distribution company of Zhang's works), which has used unconventional and unorthodox ways to promote my movies.
With the threat from Hollywood, marketing and promotion have gradually become a science in China.
Q: Many of the folk customs featured in your movies, which appear to be very Chinese and attractive to a foreign audience, do not actually exist in real life. How about the Nuo Opera in "Riding"?
A: It was an accident to use Nuo Opera as the film's background. Zou's first draft of the screenplay set the story in northern Shaanxi Province because he was very familiar with the lives of people there. But it is not new to me because I have already made "Qiu Ju Goes to Court" (1992). At that time, the screenplay had not been finished. But we had already made it clear that we would use many figurants. I am very interested in Yunnan and after we arrived here, we happened to learn that Nuo Opera is called "the living fossil" of traditional Chinese operas.
We also noticed that masks play an important role in Nuo Opera. We suddenly conceived this idea of using masks in the movie to provoke people to think deeper. We did not make this up. Nuo Opera does in fact come from real life.
Q: What are your comments on Takakura Ken's performance in your movie?
A: Mr Takakura Ken is my idol. He is the idol of a whole generation of Chinese. Even today he remains my idol, whether on the screen or in real life. I adore his personality.
I once said that a good crying performance is the basic qualification for actors. But he never cries in his movies. Later I realized that his performance was the crying of the heart. Weeping is a kind of crying, but the invisible crying of the heart is more evoking and touching. I like his reserved performance. It requires strong emotions and feelings but at the same time the control of all these emotions and feelings. So far there is no one in China who could achieve this.
Source: China Daily