Biography of Zhang Yimou Reveals Scandalous Underbelly of Chinese Film

An unusual kiss-and-tell style biography of Zhang Yimou portrays the leading Chinese director as stubborn yet credulous and manipulable, lousy at personal communication, and a victim of emotional blackmail.

The book, “Fate: Zhang Yimou the Lonely,” written by his script consultant of 16 years, Zhou Xiaofeng, makes allegations that are tougher still about Zhang Weiping (no relation), Zhang Yimou’s producer for over a decade.

Zhou claims that Zhang Weiping preyed on the director’s many flaws to position himself as Zhang Yimou’s savior for a period between 1997 film “Keep Cool” through to 2012 wartime melodrama “The Flowers of War,” after which their relationship ended.

Zhou says that Zhang Weiping disguised third-party investments in a string of movies as his own equity and lied about budgets in order to avoid paying dividends and salaries. Zhang Weiping invested RMB128 million ($20.8 million) in “Flowers” instead of the RMB650 million ($107 million at current exchange rates) he publicly stated, says Zhou.

Zhang Yimou was not paid his directing fees until April 2010 for many of his best known films in the last decade – including “Hero” (2002), “The House of Flying Daggers” (2004), “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” (2005), “Curse of the Golden Flower” (2006) and “A Simple Noodle Story” (2009).

Zhang Yimou was easy to manipulate because he rarely bothered to read a contract, never bothered to check anyone’s assertions or claims, and took no interest in any of his staff beyond their immediate working environment, Zhou says in the book.

And Zhang Yimou had dark secrets that Zhang Weiping first manipulated and later betrayed.

Zhou says that Zhang Weiping and his wife knew of Zhang Yimou’s lengthy affair with superstar actress Gong Li, and that they helped cover up Zhang Yimou’s fathering of three children in breach of China’s one-child policy.

The book says that Zhang Weiping deliberately sabotaged the relationship between director and muse through a series of lies and rumors. Zhou also suggests – but is less specific – that Zhang Weiping was the whistle-blower who, after the financial bust of “Flowers,” informed the authorities of Zhang Yimou’s illicit family.

That move may have backfired, however, as Zhang Yimou’s rocky financial circumstances were revealed when he was ordered in 2014 to pay a fine of over RMB7.4 million ($1.05 million) for breaching the country’s birth control policy. Zhou says that Zhang Yimou had no income in 2000.

Zhang Yimou, who is also internationally known for having choreographed the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games, is next set to direct big-budget actioner “The Great Wall,” for Legendary East, the Chinese offshoot of Legendary Entertainment.

Zhang Weiping has issued a statement, saying Zhou’s book is all “fabrication and lies.” He said that he plans to sue.

This story was first reported by Raymond Zhou in state-owned publication China Daily.

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