Good impressions despite the critics

14:44, April 02, 2010      

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Impression Lijiang staged at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountains draws more than 5,000 visitors every day. Zhou Xiaoming / For China Daily

Before I flew to Fujian province and on to Wuyi Mountains for the open air show Impression Dahongpao, some friends commented: "Impression again? Not another Zhang Yimou gala show? Aren't you tired of them?"

"No, I enjoy watching live shows staged by the mountains and rivers," I replied.

Most people in the audience for the debut on Monday would have been in agreement. From the first scene featuring people in LED-shudded costumes, a pavilion, bridge and trees projected on the real mountains, they applauded almost every three minutes throughout the 70-minute show.

Those who think these kinds of shows are boring have not attended them. I guess they would have watched the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Games on TV and suppose that Zhang and his team merely replicate the approach.

First off, I need to make clear that, except for Impression Liu Sanjie (2003), the first production of the Impression series, Zhang has not directed any of the later productions himself. Wang Chaoge and Fan Yue, the other two members of the so-called "golden triangle directing team", were responsible for these.

Second, whenever a new Impression show is set to premiere it is criticized as a copycat. I have watched all five shows in the past seven years and can assure you the directors have had new ideas for every production.

Impression Liu Sanjie (2004) had colorful lighting and was performed at night; Impression Lijiang (2006) highlighted ethnic song and dance; Impression West Lake (2008) set a high-tech stage 3 meters under water so that in many scenes, performers look like they're dancing in water; Impression Hainandao (2009) made good use of the visual arts; while in the latest Impression Dahongpao, the 2,000-seat auditorium can revolve, creating the impression of a 360 degree stage.

For the critics, who watch hundreds of shows every year both at home and abroad, it is understandable that they are tired of the Impression shows. But to an ordinary person, say, in Wuyishan, a town of 220,000 people in the mountains in Fujian province, Impression Dahongpao is a visual feast.

They watched that amazing opening ceremony for the Olympic Games on TV and now they are thrilled to see the same directors telling the legends of their hometown, presented with the latest technology. How excited they are!

"We all work for the people," Wang Chaoge said on the night of the premiere.

Another point against the Impression series seems to be that the shows make money and bend people to their aesthetic whims. Why they do not celebrate the shows as successful examples of creative industry is a mystery.

Every brand (think Disney, or designer labels) has its trademark characteristic and this is true of the Impression series, which has a kind of "Made in China" style.

Impression Liu Sanjie sold out 497 shows to an audience of more than 1.3 million in 2009 and netted more than 260 million yuan ($38 million); Impression Lijiang ran for 900 shows to 1.4 million and the box-office revenue was more than 150 million yuan. The next show, Impression Putuo, on the island of Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, is scheduled to open in December. After that, more than 20 cities, including Taipei, have queued up to do Impression shows. Even clients from the United States, Canada and South Korea have contacted the Impression team.

It's such a profitable and promising Chinese brand, why should it stop?

Source: China Daily (By Chen Jie)

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