Times," is the second of acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou's
films to be set in a modern city. A departure from his previous
films, "Happy Times" is a comedy touched with bitterness.
The film revolves around an old man's plan to make money by refurbishing
an old bus into the "Happy Times Hotel," a place where
young couples can find privacy. Enter a blind, beautiful stepdaughter
and the result is an intriguing and poignant look at life in modern
recently visited New York to speak about his latest film, "Happy
Times," his filmmaking style, and his upcoming martial arts
epic, "Hero." AsianConnections' Sung-Un Choi and Gu Wei
were there to interview the famous director.
his filmmaking style:
I would like
to try to make different types of films, different genres. For me
that would be good training. For example, Happy Times is
a realistic comedy with a touch of bitterness, and my next film
is a martial arts film.
From 1998 to
the year 2000, I made three films, Not One Less, The Road
Home, and Happy Times. I consider these three films a
trilogy because they are all about commoners, little people. However,
they all come with different styles. Not One Less is like
a documentary. The Road Home is like a poetic essay while
Happy Times is a comedy. So for me I'm satisfied with this
trilogy, but it's time for me to move on. That's why I'm starting
to make martial arts films and maybe I will make martial arts films
for a little while.
Since I was
4, I was able to watch different types of films from various countries.
Until today, going to the movies was my sole and most passionate
habit. I didn't know what was a "born filmmaker." You have to watch
a very simple work and model after them, learn after them to be
a good filmmaker. So I can say I've been influenced by very many
It started with
Chinese investments. Afterwards, it was purchased by the Americans.
We had a project before. We were talking a long time but I was never
satisfied with that script, so that project did not come true. But
in the end, we put Happy Times together.
On the idea
of making a film in the United States:
No. I never
think about it. I don't speak English, I don't understand this society
at all. I don't think I can make a good film here.
On his approach to Happy Times:
The film was
adapted from a novel, a story. What attracted me about the original
story was the relationship between this old elderly worker and the
abandoned bus, and how he renovated the bus into a motel to make
money. I thought it was really absurd. However, it really reflected
Chinese society. Everyone is busy and thinking about making more
But by adding
the fat step-mother and the blind girl switched the direction of
the story to more about human relationships, about the sentiments
among people. I think the film reflects my thinking of today's fast-changing
society in China. Because it commercialized so fast, things change
constantly. However, some things remain real. I suggest this truth
and sincerity about people.
of his upcoming film Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Ang Lee is a
friend of mine and I like Crouching Tiger very much. Making
Hero, it's not trying to compete with Crouching Tiger.
I think the success of Crouching Tiger is a miracle. It's
almost impossible for me to hope that Hero will be as successful.
But to be as successful as Crouching Tiger will be almost
an accident - it's only something you can hope for. But for me to
make such a big film, Hero, with a bigger investment [editor's
note: Hero has a production budget of $30 million], I will
hope the film will able to appeal to audiences around the world.
Solely depending on the Chinese market, I will probably break even.
Also, as a filmmaker,
I want to make a film that everyone can understand. And I feel that
it's our responsibility to show the world the very lively culture
of China. I would say Hero, will be as good as Crouching
About the state of Chinese cinema:
cinema is in a very difficult period for various reasons. We are
experiencing a decrease in film-goers and a decrease in production.
It has been a very popular subject for people to discuss, how to
solve this situation. As a filmmaker, I cannot see myself resolving
the problem. By the way to step up this situation, all I can say
is, try to make the best film of each and every production, whether
it's a big production or small production. And I think every filmmaker
does their best to make the best film they can.
|Click to see images from the movie!
More on his
approach to films:
Very often we
talk about how audience perceive our films, but whenever we talk
about it, I can only think from the Chinese point of view. As a
Chinese, there is no way to change the logic of my thinking. But
for me, it's important to me to make a film that others can understand.
Which means talking about the very sentiments among people. And
the second is to keep your own character, and that's something that
other people don't have.
On the issue
of why his films seem to have a female character as a central figure:
As a filmmaker,
you have to have a man and a woman. I have never made a film only
about men or only about women. But to me, the tension between men
and women, the love, it's always very important. For example, in
although there is no romantic love, there is this care, some kind
of sentiment like a father and daughter. And for my next film, it's
a martial films, but besides all the elements of martial arts, there
is also a very romantic love story.
On how films
reflect the times in which they were made:
I think all
the details in the film will reflect the spirits of a particular
period of time. For example, when you look at films shot 20 years
ago, through the details, you will experience the time, which is
very natural. The period always leaves some mark in the film, and
reflects the change of society or the political situation and about
what people were thinking at that time. And I think this is the
wonder of the film.
in Happy Times, what people are always concerned about in
the film is money, which is impossible in a Chinese film 20 years
ago because people would not be thinking about that. And that's
how films can reflect the changing of the society.
has always been part of the film industry and it has not changed
much throughout the years. It's become almost a permanent feature
of the social structure today. The process is when - before the
shooting begins - you have to send your script for them to review.
And after they approve it, you can go out and shoot it. Then once
you finish editing the film before the final cut, again, you have
to send them your film to review again. And there's different stages
you have to go through, first of all go through your province. Finally,
the decision will be made from the central government, the film
is called a back-to-back review system. There is a committee to
review your films, but none of the filmmakers can participate in
the process of reviewing. And then after that, you just wait for
some time, they will send you a document to tell you the things
that need to be changed. And this is the final result. Your only
choice is to change accordingly.