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Zhang plots opening act

Director hints at plans for Games opener

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympics on Aug. 8 will last 3½ hours and involve 10,000 performers, said Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou, who added that to him, the threat of prison as regards a confidentiality agreement is less of a worry than is rain.

At a briefing last week outside the National People’s Congress (which he attends in an advisory capacity), Zhang said a major challenge is trying to fit 5,000 years of Chinese culture into his 50-minute segment for the Opening Ceremony at the Beijing Olympics.

He gave few details about what will happen during the ceremony. Everyone involved in the preparatory work signed an agreement with the Intl. Olympic Committee and the Beijing organizers BOCOG, with confidentiality provisions from the IOC and some Chinese regulation added.

Revealing secrets could technically earn him prison time, though Zhang laughed off reports of such a sentence if he breached a confidentiality agreement. “In terms of a seven-year prison sentence for leaks, I’ve no idea. I’ve never heard of that … who would sentence whom? Can the International Olympic Committee send people to prison?”

He said there is another factor in keeping quiet about the show: “If you know all the details about a movie, you will lose interest before the preview.”

Rehearsals are already taking place in secret around the Chinese capital.

“Rain is the number one concern,” he said, since some performances — in the air, or involving high-tech and mechanical items — would have to be canceled for safety reasons.

Turning to his high-profile collaborators on the project, Zhang repeated his line that it was “a pity” Steven Spielberg had pulled out of the artistic advisory team over China’s role in the Darfur conflict, but said it wouldn’t make a difference.

Zhang skirted the issue when asked if the show would include a role for Tang Wei, the Chinese actress recently blacklisted by the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television for her role in Ang Lee’s erotic drama “Lust, Caution.” Lee also has been named as an adviser to the Opening Ceremony.

Zhang said he’d been under no pressure from the Chinese government about who was in his cast, and said he’d spoken to his friend Lee about the Opening Ceremony and nothing else.

Zhang helped give Chinese cinema an international profile with pics such as “Red Sorghum” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” so it’s a fair bet the ceremony will include a few splashes of that color.

For the moment, Zhang’s main concerns were content-based.

“It is absolutely impossible to display the culture of our 5,000-year history,” he said. “Plus, this glorious heritage needed to be simplified so youngsters and foreigners would get the idea.”

The ceremony will launch the National Stadium, a latticed bird’s-nest-like structure designed by ultra-hip architects Herzog & De Meuron.

The design originally called for a roof, which was cut after steel prices rose sharply, hence the helmer’s weather headache. Organizers have promised to fire silver iodide rockets into the sky to break up any clouds and ensure the heavens are clear for the event, but that is an inexact science.

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