Yimou began his career by making films thate looked at the past, present, and the future through a futuristic eye. He emphasized a lot on the resilience, even the stubbornness, of Chinese people in the face of hardships and adversities. The films dared to deconstruct China and reform the culture. His earlier films appear to be influenced a lot by his background and the life struggle. However, it is quite surprising to observe that Yimou has changed his track completely to make some morality fables and period martial art movies. The message from these movies also was quite confusing, considering his previous reputation as a dissident filmmaker (Salazar).
Zhang Yimou was born in 1952 in the Xi'an province of China. He grew up in socialist China where class struggle dominated life and literature. His father and brother were associated with the Kuomintang (Nationalist party). So, as a child, Yimou suffered stigmatization and ridicules. The Cultural Revolution of 1966 forced him to quit studying and start working as a farm hand and laborer. Meanwhile, Yimou developed interest in painting and amateur still photography. He used his portfolio of photographs to gain admission to the cinematography department of the Beijing Film Academy in 1978. In the film academy, Yimou was exposed to art films by various European, Japanese, Chinese, and American directors, including Fei Mu, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Scorsese, and Truffaut. He graduated from the film academy in 1982 along with stalwarts such as, Chen Kaige and Tian Zhuangzhuang. The influence of these art films and such compatriots can be seen in all of Yimou's early films.
Yimou started his cinematic career as a director of photography (One and Eight, 1984). In this very first venture, his unique talent was highly visible. He shot his pictures from obscure angles and captured the color stock as though it were black and white. He positioned the actors at the side, rather than at the center to improve the dramatic effect. He also used unique visual styles, based on the asymmetrical and unbalanced composition of the shots.
Earlier Films - Theme and the Cinematic Vision
In 1987, Zhang Yimou embarked on his directorial debut, Red Sorghum. The movie brought Yimou a lot of critical acclaim and catapulted him into the forefront of the world's art directors. The film had a lot of lush images, though the plot was simple and short. It told the story of Jiu'er, a poor girl who is sent by her parents into a pre-arranged marriage with a much older man. Thereafter, the tale revolves around the life and struggle of Jiu'er and finally her tragic end. The movie is very different from the faster and cheaper forms of Hollywood color films, primarily because of its strong melodrama and the overwhelming visual quality. The cinematography splashes its passionate colors all over the screen with abandon. The visual impact of the film is voluptuous. Yimou has used the red color as a symbol to represent passion. For Jiu'er, the red of masculinity dominates the wedding sedan, the wild sorghum, the sorghum wine, and the fire that consumes her at the end. Red Sorghum breaks cultural taboos against representing female orgasm, ecstasy, and reproductive continuity onscreen. Bold close-ups of the heroine's face, such as in the wild-sorghum abduction scene were new in mainland Chinese cinema. However, Yimou showcases female desire as