Zhang Yimou: Aesthetics of Power
Translated by chong
Notes: This is an interview of Zhu Dake, a cultural critic in Shanghai. His analysis of Zhang Yimou's film is not execellent but inspiring, particularly his comments on contemporary Chinese culture.
The scene (in Curse of the Golden Flower) I found most impressing is that of a long line of palace maids who showed off their tightly tied breasts. Many audience felt that they walked into a farm full of milk cows. According to ordinary people's opinion, there are three criteria for a popular film. The first one is erotica. The second one is violence. The final one is celebrity's privacy. With any one of them, you could make a big hit. With two, you could make a very big hit. With three, you could create a blockbuster. Curse of the Golden Flower has all of them. Without any doubt, many people are crazy about it. You see. First, it provides a lot of breasts to meet the requirement of "erotica". The second one is massive violence. The scenes of fight including murder and assassination are well shot. Zhang's skill is perfect. And then it has the affair of queen and prince. Isn't it the privacy of celebrity? Zhang put these three most eye-catching elements into one film. He plays with element combination and is very good at it.
In Zhang's film, the scene of boiling medicine is totally different from others. It is a very important element. This scene inspires me. In fact, Zhang is feeding the people a sort of medicine or a pill. A pill of violence. A pill of erotica. A pill of celebrity's privacy. Eating these pills, we grow up and get stronger.
Chinese society is very violent. Our movies keep competing on showing violence. If you make a big violent movie, I want to make one more violent than yours. In Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet, the scene of torturing mandarin is so horrible and cruel. Now the Bureau of Broadcasting and Film refuses to categorize films. In fact the categories are for violence. For adult, watching violent movies might be good to the society because it is releasing their desire of psychological violence. But for kids, the effect is contrary and it might affect their personality formation. This would result in serious consequences. Now we are not only destroying natural environment but also our humanist environment. Our loss in culture might exceed 250 million, 2.5 billion or more than 25 million. The value of human soul is higher than box office.
In 1986, Zhang's Red Sorghum is a classic film of rascal. In this film, there is a well known song with lyrics: "Girl, you march forward braverly!". March to where? He encouraged her to march to have her own life, to dismantle tradition and to liberate her body and desire. But now we have different problems. Zhang has already got rid of his humanist concern in the 1980s. He abandoned self criticism and self-reflexivity. He only pursues an aesthetics of power and an aesthetics of "empty and tall talk" (jiadakung). He is following a wrong way.
That's why he was always kicked out of Academy Award and Golden Globe Award. A selection committee member of Academy Award told me clearly that he did not like Zhang because there is no humanity in his films. The minds of all his characters are highly distorted. There is a rule in Hollywood movies. You've got to express a healthy and positive interest or ideal about human's future and belief. In Zhang's movies, you don't see these things.
Over the past twenty years, we have experienced a process from liberation to distortion of humanity. It is sick. This is not merely Zhang's problem. It is a problem of Chinese culture. We have a passion for sickness and aesthetics of power rather than ordinary people's aesthetics. In Sichuan province, a small township government even built a square like Tiananmen Square. People there are poor and starving but the local government spent so much money in it. Some local governments even built squares bigger than the Tiananmen Square. They only want to show off their power to occupy space or to build a high-rise building. The height and broad are the very important markers of aesthetics of power. From this point of view, the culture of the 1980s is much healthier than today's. Zhang is only an example or a part of the pathology of Chinese culture as a whole.
Of course, there are "positive" comments. But I put this word in brackets. As a film critic of Los Angels Times said, Curse of the Golden Flower is set against the background of the Late Tang's imperial palace life, a life incredibly luxurious. This film is a milestone. Even though we are a developing country, the luxury of our movies is unbelievable to American people.
Now we have this problem not only in movies but also many extravagant large-scale rituals and buildings. An evening concert costs tens of millions. A square costs hundreds of millions. A new town costs billions. They spent much more money than Zhang. Perhaps, this is an age in need of big scene to fulfill our dreams. Zhang was just born to this age and he is stronger than most. He is the "national director" of this era.
An excerpt from here
Photo from Kramchang