Lifetime Achievement Award!

Renowned Chinese director ZHANG Yimou will be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th Asian Film Awards. The prestigious award, the event’s highest accolade, is given to film professionals who have made a significant impact on Asian cinema throughout their lifetime dedicated to the film industry. ZHANG is also honoured for his directorial work Full River Red which will receive the 2023 Highest-Grossing Asian Film Award on the same occasion. These two awards are not only a testament to ZHANG’s extraordinary achievements but also to his continued success, having won the Asian Film Contribution Award at the 4th Asian Film Awards in 2010 and the Best Director Award at the 15th Asian Film Awards in 2021 for One Second. ZHANG expressed his profound gratitude to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award: “I consider myself very fortunate to have chosen filmmaking as my lifelong profession. Having been in the industry for over four decades, I am grateful to everyone who appreciates my films. Thank you for your enduring support and encouragement. I will keep learning and strive to surpass myself. Always having anticipations for the future, I hope that my best film will be my next one.”

Lauded as an iconic director in China’s Fifth Generation Cinema, ZHANG Yimou was admitted to the Beijing Film Academy’s Department of Cinematography in 1978. He debuted as the cinematographer for One and Eight in 1984. With his daring and innovative composition, unique camera work, and exceptional visual storytelling, ZHANG earned the title of Outstanding Chinese Cinematographer and started to gain recognition in Chinese cinema. He served as cinematographer for CHEN Kaige’s Yellow Earth in the same year, capturing the stunning landscapes and majestic beauty of the yellow earth. For this film, ZHANG not only won Best Cinematography at the 5th Golden Rooster Award but also at film festivals in both Hawaii and Nantes. Beyond his early cinematography work, the multi-talented ZHANG also appeared on-screen in the film Old Well as a young village worker. His performance won him the Best Actor Award at the 8th Golden Rooster Award, the 11th Hundred Flowers Award and the 2nd Tokyo International Film Festival, making ZHANG the first-ever Chinese to win Best Actor awards at international film festivals.

In 1988, ZHANG Yimou made his directorial debut with Red Sorghum, a powerful story set in a sorghum distillery during the second Sino-Japanese War. The film’s intense colours and bold narrative style quickly vaulted ZHANG to international fame. Red Sorghum won the Golden Bear Award at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival and marked China’s first major award at the world’s top three film festivals. Besides directing, ZHANG continued to appear on screen. In the 1990 film A Terra-Cotta Warrior by Hong Kong director Tony CHING Siu Tung, ZHANG was casted as an army general during the Qin dynasty whose iconic romance with GONG Li’s character spans multiple lifetimes.

Stunning Film Debut and Major Awards at Top Global Film Festivals Within Seven Years

While ZHANG Yimou’s earlier films focused on rural lives, his directorial works from 1988 to 1999 including Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qiu Ju, To Live, Not One Less, and The Road Home essentially chronicled social development in contemporary China while profiling the lives of Chinese people across different eras. His 1991 film Raise the Red Lantern won the Silver Lion award at the 44th Venice Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 64th Oscars. This was immediately followed by The Story of Qiu Ju in 1992 which won the Golden Lion Award at the 45th Venice Film Festival. His 1994 film To Live won the Cannes Grand Jury Prize. From his directorial debut with Red Sorghum, ZHANG garnered top prizes at all three world’s top film festivals within merely seven years. After the year 2000, ZHANG shifted his focus and directed many blockbusters including Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower which continued to break Chinese box office records. In 2015, he directed The Great Wall, his first English-language film. For Shadow, ZHANG won Best Director at the 55th Golden Horse Awards in 2017, continuing his legacy as one of the most influential directors in contemporary Chinese cinema.

ZHANG Yimou Talks About His Cinematic Journey

As a filmmaker with decades of experience, can you share your insight on films from different eras?

There have been significant phases in Chinese cinema over the past decades, with each era leaving its imprint on the development and evolution of Chinese films. This phenomenon is not unique to China, but also everywhere else. Personally speaking, each era is complex and profound on its own. Ultimately, film is a bridge with the capacity to connect our hearts together.

In addition to directing, you have taken on different roles in film production including cinematography and acting. Is director still your favourite post?

Certainly. I prefer to stay behind the scenes, working with teams through arduous efforts to present my work. In this context, directing is not unlike a master chef orchestrating a culinary masterpiece.

Could you imagine what your life would be like had you not entered the film industry?

Many friends asked me the same question, and I do sometimes go back in time to analyse and imagine what might have been. If I were to make a guess, the two most probable paths during that era would be: (1) A propaganda officer at a factory’s trade union (primarily involved in writing and drawing); (2) Running a small photography studio.

Any experience or insight you would like to share with young film directors?

Back when I was a young director, nobody really shared their experiences or offered much guidance. I was navigating and forging the path on my own. Nowadays, I am often asked by the media to impart words of wisdom to young directors. Today’s young generation actually grows up in the age of the internet with abundant information at their disposal. They are very aware and energetic, and do not really need much spoon-feeding. But since you asked, my answer is simple: persistence is key! Even when faced with numerous challenges, you have to persevere. As long as you have passion, you will persevere.


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