Zhang Yimou’s ‘Great’ Adventure

At an age when most men might prefer to slow down, Zhang Yimou is set to take on a string of global-scale projects that will venture beyond cinema.

These projects aren’t just ambitious and lucrative for Zhang, according to China film observers. They’re also widely viewed as key projects capable of exporting China’s soft power and competing for high-profile accolades. The latter goal would seem to be well within reach of Zhang, a two-time Golden Lion winner at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.

The iconic Fifth Generation director is in post-production on “The Great Wall,” his first English-language film. With a budget of $135 million, it stars Matt Damon, Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu.

Zhang previously enjoyed great box office success with his 2003 martial arts epic “Hero,” which raked in 250 million yuan ($41 million) in China — more than three times what he had expected — and $177 million worldwide. Afterward, “House of Flying Daggers” and “Curse of the Golden Flower” followed a similar formula of major box office success as well as enthusiasm from the world’s critics, especially “Daggers,” which grossed nearly $100 million worldwide and boasts a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

But Zhang’s current large-scale productions also require the popular success that may have left some fans of his earlier, more artistically daring films wishing for a return to his auteur roots. But Zhang’s priorities are clear. “The ultimate purpose of a film is to enchant the audience. If it scoops up many awards, but attracts very few moviegoers, it is still a failure,” Zhang told UCLA’s Asia Pacific Arts.

Zhang’s upcoming projects also include directing the opening and closing ceremonies of the November G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, and a new company, SoReal, which Zhang says will develop interactive games and possibly VR films.

Ma Fung-kwok, who was a producer of one of Zhang’s most acclaimed films, “The Story of Qiu Ju,” says as China grew into a world economic powerhouse, the country was in pressing need to “showcase its soft power.”  Ma, now a politician, says, “Zhang’s strength in visuals can help bring the images of China to an international audience.”

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