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Still life with Zhang Yimou: Authorized biography hits the stands

By Ge Lili (Global Times)

13:49, January 10, 2012

In 2011, no Chinese director made more headlines, either domestically or abroad, than Zhang Yimou, the visionary talent behind the blockbuster The Flowers of War. Fans can now get an intimate look inside the life of the iconic filmmaker, following Saturday's release of his biography, Zhang Yimou's Assignment, published by Peking University Press.

The book, compiled by writer Fang Xi, gives a record of Zhang's life through photographic images. This is the only biography authorized by the director, who sees it as a "life assignment" that he has now handed in.

The new release shares Zhang's perspective on some critical moments in his life, and reveals some previously unheard stories about his experiences working on different projects over the course of his 25-year career.

Zhang Yimou's Assignment offers a rare glimpse into the inner life of this fascinating figure in Chinese film. After teaching himself photography, he enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy at the age of 27. He matured behind the lens, learning to communicate with the world through images. In the book, Fang used photos provided by Zhang to convey his growth, pains and joys.

In the preface, Zhang writes that other publications relating to him are not authorized, with only a few being collections of his interviews at best. He believes that his generation reveres original authorship, and that everyone should undertake his own "assignment."

He also reveals the story behind the book. In late 2010, several days before leaving for Nanjing to shoot The Flowers of War, he was sorting through his belongings when he came across some photos he had taken decades before. Two of his friends happened to be there and encouraged him to publish a book based on the pictures.

"The color of these photos has turned to yellow and I'm afraid I will lose them if I make another move. If they become books, they can be preserved in a decent way. I was touched for the first time. I did not keep these photos because I am nostalgic or narcissistic, but rather, because they tell the story of how my fate completely changed," Zhang writes.

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