HONG KONG – Top Chinese director Zhang Yimou and his former muse, star actress Gong Li have begun production on the aptly named drama “Return.”
Although the two were romantically linked for many years and worked together on more than half a dozen film films including “Red Sorghum,” “The Story of Qiu Ju” and “Raise The Red Lantern,” they have not been professionally connected since 2006’s “Curse of the Golden Flower.”
“Return” is Zhang’s first movie for Le Vision Pictures, the production offshoot of Chinese online video group Le TV, since he joined the company earlier this year as artistic director.
The film, which deals with issues including the controversial Cultural Revolution period of Chinese history as well as dementia and self-image, is an adaptation of “The Criminal Lu Yanshi,” a novel by Yan Geling, author of the book that Zhang previously directed as “The Flowers of War” with Christian Bale in a starring role. The adaptation is penned by Zou Jingshi, who previously wrote Zhang’s “Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles.”
The story follows an intellectual who is forced into marriage, flees to America and on his return to China is sent to a labor camp.
Shooting got underway in Beijing on Monday with veteran actor Chen Daoming, who has worked twice previously with Zhang, in the male lead role.
Zhang has a busy schedule. He is currently directing his first Peking opera, a tale of filial love that opens during China’s upcoming National Day holiday. He is also working on another return of sorts.
He is collaborating with fellow ‘fifth generation’ director and former classmate Tian Zhuangzhuang (“The Blue Kite”) on an untitled costume drama about famous beauty Yang Yuhuan who sparked a national war 1,400 years ago. The film, backed by ESA Cultural Investment, is now lensing with stars Fan Bingbing and Hong Kong’s Leon Lai. ESA has said that Zhang may be credited as co-director, though Le Vision says Zhang is ‘lending a helping hand.”
Sources within Le Vision say that Zhang is still pondering “Quasimodo,” a Hollywood musical adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” set up at Warner Bros.
Gong has been something of rarity on Chinese screens, especially so since she took on Singaporean residency a few years back. Her last major outing was the misfire Chinese remake of “What Women Want.” However Gong also stars in upcoming “Gone With The Bullets,” made with iconic director Jiang Wen and top actor Ge You.
The teaser poster for “Return” (pictured below) shows a solitary figure walking through a snowy landscape. While it bears Zhang and Le Vision’s names there are no credits for Gong or Chen.