Sunday, 5 August 2007

Yellow Earth (1985)

Chen Kaige is the 1st director in the circle of the 5th-Generation Chinese directors whose film came out of China since the Opening-Up in 1978. And it's also the 1st film Chen made. This group of 5G (5th Generation) also graduates of the Class of 1982 of the Beijing Film Academy.

Yellow Earth (1985)1 of the thing that defines this Class of 1982 directors is their preoccupation of defining China through their movies by examining her histories, culture, social issues, etc. This is hardly surprising for they're the product of a recent Chinese history, and are affected and burdened by these watershed events. They're trying to unravel it themselves. Like a few others in the 5G circle, they progressively made commercial films in their latter phases of their careers.

Yellow Earth is another name for China because the term refers to the loess plateau in Shaanxi, which is considered the cradle of Chinese civilisation. This is the heart of the Central Plain (中原), which is a name that often used in ancient times, and in countless times in wuxia movies.

So if Chen Kaige, the 1st 5G director wanted to explore the history of China in his 1st film, what's better place to start than the cradle of Chinese nation? Let's go to the source where China sprung up (alongside the Yellow River like the Nile to ancient Egypt). Incidentally, the 1st Emperor of China buried in Xi'an, the capital city of Shaanxi. So if there's ever going to be a place to represent China, Shaanxi is it.

Chen KaigeThis movie is so early and pioneering (as far as Chinese cinema going abroad is concerned) that Zhang Yimou hadn't directed his 1st film yet, but he was responsible for the haunting cinematography in this movie. He was still an actor cum camera man then. Less than 2 years from this film was made, the world would know his name. And so it's perfectly logical that Zhang Yimou, who helped to create Chen Kaige's directorial debut, also made his own directorial debut with a movie set in Shaanxi for the more reason that he was born a Shaanxi native.

They maybe in the same class, but their styles of directing is diametrically opposite. Zhang always put his story telling before arts while Chen is stating pretty clear that he's an arts-for-arts-sake director. His story serves to tell his arts, not the other way round. I guess this is why Zhang is so much more successful (in terms the number of awards he won, and the high IMDB rating for his films), and more popular (in term of his fan base). He's so popular, he was asked to design the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Still, this is milestone film for being the 1st of its kind to come out of China since the paramount political event in 1978.


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