Comparing Chinese Film Directors

Comparing Chinese Film Directors

            Kung Fu, mystical creatures and myths are some of the trademarks of a Chinese film - Comparing Chinese Film Directors introduction. The said characteristics made Chinese films unique and different from other countries’ films. China made some of the most famous films that gave a different twist in regards to cinematography. Chinese cinema also reflects the very own culture of China. Most of the time, the setting in a Chinese film is the civilization that occurred thousand of years ago. In the book by Yingjin Zhang (4), not only China possessed what he called ‘Chinese cinema’. Hong Kong and Taiwan’s film can also be considered as part of ‘Chinese cinema’, so he gave a broader term which is ‘Chinese-language cinema’ since the language used in those films is Chinese. Directors from China like Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou and Wu Tianming are some of the filmmakers who are well-known internationally (Semsel, Hong, Jianping 19).

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            Chinese directors have captured many international awards in the years passed. In August 11, 1896, Western shadow plays were done in Xu Garden in Shanghai. Imported Western film technology has become very important part in the social, political and cultural life of the Chinese Nation (Hsiao and Lu 2).

            Chen Kaige is one of the fifth generation filmmakers which mean ‘young filmmakers who are mostly graduates of Beijing Film Institute’. His father is Chen Huai’ai who was also a well-known director and his mother is Yu Lan who was a popular actress. He was born on August 12, 1952 in Beijing, China. He graduated from Beijing Film Academy in 1982. Several of his films are visually flair and more on epic storytelling. He is not only a director but he is also an actor, a producer and a writer. His first movie was the Yellow Earth in 1984. This film is simple, powerful and revolutionary storytelling. He is not only directing a movie but he is also directing music video for the song “Do You Believe in Shame” by Duran Duran. Kaige’s films were well-known in the West. “Farewell My Concubine” (1993) is his most famous film. This film was nominated for two Academy Awards and wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. Not like the Farewell My Concubine, “Temptress Moon” (1996) is his movie which received most critics. One of his famous films is” The Emperor and the Assassin” (1996), an epic involving the legend of the King of Qin and the assassin who planned to kill him. In 2002, Kaige directed his first English language film, “Killing Me Softly” but it is not that popular. He also acted in films like in “Berlolucci’s The Last Emperor” and in his own films which are “The Emperor and the Assassin” and “Together”. In his film “Together”, he won the Best Director Award in the San Sebastian International Film Festival last 2002. In the films Yellow Earth (1984), Life on a String (1991), Temptress Moon (1996), The Emperor and the Assassin (1999), Together (2002) and The Promise (2005), he not only functioned as a director but he also became the writer. In the film “Together”, he was the director but at the same time he also played a role in the film as Yu Shifeng. He was also its writer and he was also the one who produced it (Chen Kaige).

            Zhang Yuan is also a famous Chinese filmmaker. He was born in 1963 in Nanjing, China. He is a member of the China’s sixth generation. He graduated in Beijing Film Academy with an Associate Degree in Cinematography in 1989. His debut film titled “Mama” is a semi-documentary about a mother and her retarded son. This film is known as China’s first independent film since 1949. “Beijing Bastards” directed in 1993 was about the disaffected subculture of the youth. His film “Son” like Mama is also a documentary-style of movie. In this film he showed the destruction of a family due to alcoholism and mental illness. In 1994, The Ministry of Film, Television and Culture criticized this film, which is why Zhang Yuan and his fellow Sixth Generation filmmakers were banned. In 1996 he continued making films and documentaries. His film “East Palace, West Palace” was the first homosexual-themed movie. After this movie his documentary style film was change to conventionally filmed features. In 1996 he made the film “Seventeen Years”, this is the first Chinese film which was approved to shoot in a Chinese prison. This film gave Zhang Yuan the Best Director Award at the Venice Film Festival. He directed three films entitled the “Green Tea”, “I love you and “Jiang Jie” in just a year and all three films were successful. In the year 2006, Zhang directed the film “Little Red Flowers” which gained a CICAE award at the Berlin Film Festival. Zhang doesn’t only do films but he also direct documentaries. One of his long-form documentaries was “The Square” (1994) which covers the daily life in Tiananmen Square”. In 1990, he directed a documentary entitled “Demolition and Relocation” (1998). This is about the destruction of Beijing’s Hutongs. He made “Crazy English” in 1999. In the year 2000, he directed “Miss Jin Xing” which is a film about a man who decided to become a woman. Zhang also directed music videos and commercials. He made many music videos with Chinese musician Cui Jian. He also directed the music video “Wild in the Snow”. The video won the Best Asian Video in 1991 MTV Music Video Awards (Zhang Yuan).

            Basically, both Chen Kaige and Zhang Yuan are famous, great and award-winning Chinese directors. Both of them are the pride of Chinese cinema. But what made them different from each other? Like what was said in the prior paragraphs, Chen Kaige is a fifth generation Chinese director while Zhang Yuan is a sixth generation Chinese director. So, Chen Kaige is older than Zhang Yuan. Also, Chen Kaige came from a family devoted to Chinese cinema. The skills and talent of being a director and actor came through his blood since his parents were well known director and actress. Chen Kaige is not only a director but he is also an actor and a producer while Zhang Yuan only functions as a director. Also, most of the films directed by Chen Kaige were films or movies written by him. Since Chen Kaige and Zhang Yuan came from different generations, the two directors had also different genres in film making and directing.  Chen Kaige focused more on drama-typed films while Zhang                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Yuan had his specialties on documentaries. But, both of them also directed music videos and commercials other than films. Zhang Yuan had more controversial films than Chen Kaige since he addressed the problems and issues of the society in his films and documentaries.

            One of the most famous works of Chen Kaige is a movie entitled ‘Farewell my Concubine’ (1993). This film won him an award from an international film festival which is the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. The film displayed the Chinese culture which is a unique characteristic of a movie made by a fifth generation film maker. It was initially banned in China since it covered controversial issues like the issue of homosexuality. But the film was well known internationally. In the film, Dieyi is the character in the film which portrayed homosexuality towards his friend, Xiaolou (Hsiao and Lu 331).

            ‘East Palace, West Palace’ (1996) is a film directed by Zhang Yuan. The East Palace and the West Palace are the two parks near the Forbidden City. The two parks are Beijing’s public washrooms where gay activities occurred. Like Chen Kaige’s ‘Farewell my Concubine’, Zhang Yuan’s ‘East Palace, West Palace’ also showed and tackled the issue on homosexuality. It was also banned in China because of the very sensitive issue it displayed and portrayed. It was also known internationally after it was banned since the idea on homosexuality or gay theme is more acceptable in other countries.

            The two directors, Chen Kaige and Zhang Yuan, are both directors that were not afraid to outspoken and revealed the sensitive and controversial issues that are occurring in the Chinese society. Both of them showed Chinese culture in their films. Even though they have films that were banned in their own country which is China, still they gave awards and glory in Chinese cinema. Chen Kaige and Zhang Yuan are both treasures of the Chinese cinema.

Works Cited

“Chen Kaige” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 22 Oct 2008. 19 Nov 2008 <>

Hsiao-Peng Lu, Sheldon. Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender.

            Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1997. 2

Semsel, George, Hong Xia and Jianping, Hou. Chinese Film Theory: A Guide to the New           Era. New York: Praeger. 1990. 19
Zhang, Yingjin. Chinese National Cinema. New York: Routledge. 2004. 4

“Zhang Yuan” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Nov 2008. 19 Nov 2008



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