Yimou Zhang

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6.5 Red Sorghum (1987)
7.5 Ju Dou (1990)
7.1 Raise of the Red Lantern (1991)
6.5 Story Of Qiu Ju (1992)
7.2 To Live (1994)
7.1 Shanghai Triad (1995)
7.4 Not One Less (1999)
6.5 Happy Times (2000)
6.5 The Road Home (2000)
8.0 Hero (2002)
6.5 House of Flying Daggers (2004)
6.5 Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005)
6.5 Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
5.0 A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2009)
5.5 The Flowers of War (2011)
5.5 The Great Wall (2016)
6.8 Shadow (2018)

Yimou Zhang (China, 1951 - the first name is Yimou) was one of the early students of the Beijing Film Academy when it reopened after the death of Mao. His classmates Junzhao Zhang and Kaige Chen launched the Chinese new wave with Junzhao Zhang's One and Eight (1983) and Kaige Chen's Yellow Earth (1984).

Yimou Zhang's debut, Hong Gaoliang/ Red Sorghum (1987), is two films in one. The first one is a fairy tale about a fabled realm in which a poor girl becomes a princess, and a satire of sort in that the princess ends up marrying the man who raped her. The second half is a war movie more typical of old Maoist propaganda films (and a bit ridiculous in its emphatic nationalism). The first part is a decent folk tale (enhanced by a baroque visual style) but the second part feels completely out of context.

The action takes place in the 1920s in an arid countryside, The narrating voiceover introduces his granma. A beautiful girl is forced by her family to marry the old and gravely ill Big Head Lee simply because the rich man paid with a mule. The men who are carrying the bride to her wedding in the traditional sedan chair make fun of her situation and make her cry. The procession travels through fields of wild sorghum. They are attacked by a masked bandit who threatens to shoot them. The men cowardly surrender their money. Then the bandit peeks inside the sedan chair and orders the girl to get out, clearly determined to rape her. She actually smiles at him and obediently walk into the bushes. The men finally spring to action, and easily prevail over the lonely bandit. It turns out he didn't even have a real gun. The girl quietly returns to the sedan chair, showing no sign of happiness. It almost appears that the bandit was a savior to her. Finally the procession reaches the poor village of which the bridegroom is the richest man. When night comes, she waits terrified for him. The marriage life is clearly a torture. When, on her way to visit her father, she is attacked by a masked bandit again, she resists only a bit, then let him rape her: when he removes his mask, she realizes that he is one of the litter-bearers who works for her husband and who saved her from the real bandit. The voiceover tells us that he is his granpa. Shortly afterwards her husband is mysteriously killed. The workers gossip but nobody knows what happened. She has inherited her husband's business, a winery, but she sleeps outside because she is afraid of getting her husband's illness. The workers are ready to leave, but she begs them to stay and offers them to share equally the profits of the business. She tells them that she's from a poor family too, and tell them to simply call her with her name, Jiu-er. The workers enthusiastically accept their new boss. The harmony, owever, is disrupted by the arrival of the worker who raped her, who, drunk, demands the right to be her husband and the new boss. She punishes him in front of everybody, but she has lost their respect. The workers throw the drunk into a crock, where he lies upside down for three days. But then he helps deal with the bandit Pu Sanpao, who briefly takes over the place. By now she is pregnant. Finally, peace is restored and foreman Luo-han leads the workers to make their first wine under the new boss. They are already celebrating when the rapist walks in and sarcastically urinates in the crocks of wine. Then he unceremoniously carries the girl to the bedroom, and nobody argues with him, not even her. At night the foreman walks around depressed, and perhaps jealous, and for whatever reason he decides to taste the wine despite the pee: it tastes deliciously. The foreman runs to wake up the boss and tell her the good news. It is the rapist who opens the door and receives the news that they now have the secret to make the best wine ever. Works picks up in a frenzy and he workers are excited. The foreman, however, decides to quit. She runs in vain after him in the sorghum fields. She has lost a devoted foreman, but she now has a nine-year old child.
Suddenly, everything changes. The Japanese invade China and reach the village, drafting all the men to build a railway. The workers are forced to obey under the threat of machine guns. Some of the workers, a smiling butcher and his young assistant, have just butchered an animal for the troops. When a worker rebels, the commander asks the butcher to skin him alive: he is none less than Luo-han, the former foreman. The smiling butcher pretends to obey but then revolts, and is immediately killed. His young assistant is a coward and carries out the disgusting operation on Luo-han who is still alive.
Jiu-er and her workers swear revenge. She makes sure to have her son Dou-guan swear too. During the night the men bury the wine crocks in the road and the rapist has his son Dou-guan pee on the wine. But this time the wine is explosives. The following day the village rises up: many are massacred, including Jiu-er, but the explosive does its job. The Japanese are defeated. Dou-guan and his father (the rapist) survive.

Ju Dou (1990), based on Liu Heng's short story "Fu Xi Fu Xi", is a sumptuous historical drama and an apocalyptic fresco of feudal society, but, more importantly, it weds ancient Chinese rituals and ancient Greek tragedy: it is a story of sadism, adultery, patricide and pyromania. It is also a gothic tale about the spirit of an evil man invading the body of the son of a good man. Zhang's meditation is also about the wheel of destiny, with the tables that keep turning, alternatively revenging the abused wife and the betrayed husband, but ultimately punishing the woman, who has therefore been a victim of everybody: the family who sold her to an old evil man, the abusing husband, the lusty lover and even her own son.

In a rural village in 1920 a simple-minded middle-aged man, Tian Qing, works for the old uncle, Jinshan, who adopted him. The uncle owns a mill to dye fabric. He is notoriously a miser and a sadic who tortured his two wives to death because they gave him no children. The uncle marries, or, better, buys himself, a new wife, a beautiful young woman, Ju Dou. The poor girl is sexually abused at night, bound and gagged, and is worked to death like a slave during the day hanging dyed rolls of cloth on long poles to dry. The middle-aged Tian Qing is immediately fascinated with and bewitched by the girl. He sees wounds on her face and arms, and hears her screams at night; but she doesn't want to admit to him that she is being tortured. On the other hand, she is moved to tears hearing the screams of a pork that her husband is slaughtering. He calls her "aunt" although she is half his age. They mostly exchange looks, but one day she opens up: the old man is impotent and is killing her. She knows that he has been peeking at her naked. When the old man spends a night away, she throws herself into the arms of Tian Qing, and she finally enjoys sex. Ju Dou gets pregnant and the old man is ecstatic, thinking that it's his child.
A boy, Tian Bai, is born, and the old man is even happier. His nephew builds toys for the toddler and runs to the mother whenever the uncle is not around. After a fall from a donkey, the old man is left paralyzed from the waist down. Now that he cannot hurt her anymore, she can take her revenge: she tells him that Tian Bai is Tian Qing's son. The two star making love openly. The old man crawls towards the cradle of the toddler and they arrive just in time to prevent an infanticide. The old man tries again, this time setting fire to the room where the child sleeps. Again, they arrive just in time. Ju Dou would be ready to kill him but his nephew cannot find the guts, and Ju Dou later decides that the best revenge is to keep him alive so he can witness their happiness. The old man depends on Tian Qing for everything. Tian Qing locks him in a barrel and hangs the barrel with a rope high in the air, so the old man cannot do any harm anymore.
Years go by. Ju Dou is concerned that the child doesn't talk. The old man is now permanently confined to a wheeled barrel, dragging himself around with a couple of sticks; but he has not given up on his revengeful thoughts. One day Ju Dou and Tian Qing cannot find him. The old man is alone with him and is ready to kill him, when the child turns and says "daddy" repeatedly at him. This convinces the old man that, after all, this is his child. Ju Dou and Tian Qing, who have been desperately searching for the child, get home to be surprised by the sight of the old man Jinshan and the little child Tian Bai playing together. Jinshan now has his revenge over his nephew: by accepting the child, he "steals" him from his real father Tian Qing. Since the village would kill them for adultery, Ju Dou and Tian Qing are forced to go along with the old man's pretense. It is humiliating for Tian Qing to hear his son call "daddy" his uncle, and to attend the birthday of the child during which the child is hailed by the notables as the heir to Jinshan's lineage. More trouble lies ahead: Ju Dou is pregnant, and that would betray their affair. The only thing that can save them is if the old man dies. She has the poison ready, but it turns out not to be necessary. Her son is a cryptic little monster, who seems to despise his own mother, as if he sensed the adultery. One day the old man in his wheeled barrel and the child are playing by the water. The old man falls in the water and the child watches amused while he drowns.
At the funeral the adulterous couple has to pretend that they are devastated by grief. The elders, aware that the town is gossiping already, decree that Tian Qing must move out of the house. In order to save their lives, Ju Dou and her lover need to continue the charade not only in front of the town but also in front of their child, who is growing up thinking that Tian Qing is simply an adopted son of his father, a sort of brother. The child, now a moustached teenager, is still an odd creature, who stares at them in a menacing manner, as if he had inherited some of the dead man's hatred. When he overhears a young man tell his friends how he saw Ju Dou make love to a man in the fields, Tian Bai grabs an axe and tries to kill him. Then at home he finds Tian Qing working as usual on the dye and kicks him in the face. His mother, outraged, shouts at him that he has just kicked his real father. Throughout all of this the child does not utter a word.
They now live in fear of their son. He is admitted to the house only during work hours. They have not had sex in a long time. One day when their son leaves them alone they descend into a well. There is hardly enough oxygen to breathe: they make love and then they faint. Tian Bai finds them in the well. He saves only his mother, who, still unconscious, keeps muttering "Tian Qing". Then he hauls the unconscious Tian Qing up from the well and dumps him into the vat of red dye. Tian Qing squirms in the water just like Jinshan did. This time, though, Tian Bai is not content of watching: he grabs a piece of wood and hits his father in the head. His mother watches the scene screaming.
Ju Dou sets fire to the dye plant.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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Dahong Denglong Gaogao Gua/ Raise of the Red Lantern (1991) is an adaptation of Su Tong's novel "Wives and Concubines" (1990). Ragazza in primo piano, sguardo nel nulla, dichiara alla madre di aver deciso di sposarsi. Lacrime negli occhi, dichiara di essere pronta a diventare la concubina di un uomo ricco. Songlian arriva alla lussuosa residenza del marito, un complesso di edifici degno della Citta` Proibita, arredata con centinaia di lanterne rosse in suo onore. E` la quarta moglie. I servi le lavano i piedi, la pettinano, la vestono. Arriva il marito, che dopo poche frasi di convenienza pretende subito che lei sottostia ai doveri coniugali. La terza moglie, un'ex cantante d'opera, manda a dire di star male e il marito deve recarsi nella terza casa. I servi lo accompagnano e accendono le lanterne nella terza casa.
Il giorno dopo un servo la porta in giro per il complesso e le presenta le prime moglie: la piu` anziana la accoglie con freddezza, la seconda con calore e le chiede di lei (Songlian racconta che dovette interrompere gli studi all'universita` dopo la morte del padre e che la madre e` soltanto una madrigna. La terza, famosa per essere viziata e scontrosa, non vuole riceverla.
Una giovane serva nutre rancore perche' sperava di poter diventare lei la quarta moglie e invano la serva anziana tenta di spiegarle che una serva e` destinata a rimanere sempre serva. Proprio questa ragazza viene assegnata a Songlian.
A tavola Songlian incontra finalmente la terza moglie, elegante e altezzosa. La vita "familiare" verte attorno a rigorosi rituali. A condurla in giro e a spiegarle i fatti e` il fedele Chen, il capo dei servi. Ogni sera il padrone sceglie una moglie e Chen fa accendere le lanterne che portano alla casa della prescelta. Sceglie di nuovo la quarta moglie e le altre hanno reazioni diverse (la prima ormai indifferente, la terza gelosa, la seconda contenta per lei). La terza moglie tenta di nuovo di interrompere la loro notte, ma questa volta il padrone manda a dire di lasciarli in pace. La mattina presto l'antipatica terzA moglie canta a squarciagola sui tetti.
Songlian sorprende il padrone con la sua cameriera e si mette a piangere. Il padrone se ne va e il rituale ricomincia: Chen annuncia che la prescelta e` la terza moglie. Songlian e` gelosa. Si sta abituando alle attenzioni che le vengono tributate quando il padrone la presceglie ed e` malinconica quando lui sceglie qualcun'altra e lei rimane sola con la cameriera.
Non si vede mai il volto del padrone.
Songlian passeggia sui tetti e ascolta la terza moglie che canta mentre il padrone se la gode. La seconda moglie le rivela che i servi le mancano di rispetto se il padrone la ignora per qualchegiorno. E` un sistema crudele, che le pone in continua concorrenza. Persino il menu dei pasti viene deciso dalla moglie che e` stata preferita la notte prima. Le rivela anche che alcune mogli delle generazioni passate vennero impiccate in una stanza del piano superiore in quanto adultere.
La terza moglie finalmente si apre e la invita a giocare a mah-jong con lei e due amici.
Viene l'autunno. Piove. Songlian fa inviperire la terza moglie quando, dopo una notte con il padrone, decide di mangiare a casa propria da sola con lui invece che mangiare con le altre mogli. Naturalmente la terza moglie pretende lo stesso onore quando le sue lanterne sono accese.
Feipu, il figlio del padrone, viene a trovare il padre. Songlian lo incontra mentre sta suonando il flauto in una veranda. Anche Songlian aveva un flauto nel suo bagaglio ma e` scomparso e lei sospetta che sia stata la cameriera. Va a perquisire la sua camera e scopre un pupazzo con il nome Songlian trafitto di spille. LA cameriera non sa leggere e scrivere, Songlian le fa confessare chi ha scritto il suo nome sul pupazzo: la seconda moglie, proprio l'unica che sembrava esserle amica.
Il padrone confessa di aver preso il suo flauto. Songlian lo vuole perche' era il flauto di suo padre. Ma il padrone l'ha fatto bruciare (soltanto gli uomini possono suonare il flauto).
La seconda moglie va a trovare Songlian perche' ha sentito dire che sta male. Le chiede di tagliarle i capelli. Songlian ne approfitta per compiere la sua vendetta: le taglia un pezzo di orecchio. La terza moglie viene a confessarsi: odia la seconda moglie perche' anche lei ha scoperto che dietro i sorrisi si nasconde una vipera (le raccolta la feroce rivalita` quando erano entrambe incinte e la seconda moglie tento` persino di avvelenarla).
Il padrone decide di consolare la seconda moglie dedicandole un po' di notti. Songlian e` gelosa. Fa credere di essere incinta: la tradizione richiede che casa sua venga illuminata dalle lanterne rosse tutte le notte. E tutte le sere le vengono riservate le attenzioni destinate alla preferita, in particolare il massaggio dei piedi che Songlian adora.
Viene l'inverno. Songlian si fa massaggiare dalla seconda moglie e gode nell'umiliarla. La cameriera scopre pero` che ha ancora le mestruazioni e va a dirlo alla seconda moglie. La seconda moglie convince il padrone a chiamare un dottore per visitare Songlian. IL dottore rivela al padrone che Songlian sta mentendo: non e` incinta. L'ira del padrone e` terribile. Le lanterne di Songlian vengono fisicamente coperte con sacchi.
Songlian sospetta che sia stata la cameriera a denunciarla e per vendicarsi la fa condannare per aver osato tenere lanterne in camera propria. In pratica ha distrutto il suo sogno di diventare una moglie. La cameriera viene punita secondo la tradizione e quasi muore. Anche Songlian e` diventata come le altre: perfida, crudele, egoista.
Adesso e` la terza moglie a consolarla. Entrambe odiano l'ipocrita seconda moglie e sanno che la cameriera prende ordini da lei.
La cameriera muore in ospedale e il padrone mette la serva anziana a sostituirla presso Songlian. E` il suo ventesimo compleanno. Feipa va a trovarla: Songlian si sta ubriacando.
Nevica. Songlian, ubriaca, rivela alla seconda moglie che la terza moglie ha una tresca con il dottore. Nel giro di poche ore la seconda moglie viene condotta a casa imbavagliata e in catene. Il padrone la fa impiccare nella stanza di sopra. Songlian assiste impotente e terrorizzata. Accusa il padrone di essere un assassino.
Songlian si vendica con una grottesca messinscena. Una notte i servitori trovano accese le lanterne della terza casa, sentono il canto della terza moglie... i servitori fuggono terrorizzati, convinti che si tratti di un fantasma.
Estate. Chen annuncia la quinta moglie e il rituale ricomincia. Songlian e` impazzita e adesso non fa altro che camminare avanti e indietro.
Il film e` visivamente imponente. L'ambientazione nella citta` privata conferisce al racconto un senso di mistero. La vita delle donne trascorre senza grandi novita`: l'unico fatto che conta e` il padrone, cosa fa, dov'e`, chi sceglie. Le loro vite sono delle lunghe, snervanti attese, riempite da rituali ancestrali. Quei vuoti si riempiono poco alla volta di odio. Tutte complottano contro tutte. Songlian non capisce il senso di tutto cio`, ma la psicologia di queste mogli-schiave e` tale che il sogno della cameriera diventa quello di diventare una di loro. Songlian non capisce il senso, cosi` come forse non ha senso la vita nella societa` moderna, anche quella fatta di rituali metodici e poco piu`. COme lei, anche l'uomo moderno vive una vita senza senso, invischiato nei rituali borghesi, e come lei finisce per esserne travolto, usando ogni mezzo per vincere contro gli altri. Il gioco s'impadronisce dei giocatori.
Songlian e` causa involontaria di una tragedia "shakespeariana".

Huozhe/ To Live (1994) e` un film di vite ordinarie in balia della storia. La ricostruzione di ambienti ed eventi e` lirica e quasi onirica. Yimou non prende parte alla storia, e soprattutto non prende "parti", si limita a raccontarla. Il suo stile neutro e impassibile e` quasi l'esatto opposto dello stile agit-prop del cinema comunista di un tempo.

Un padre di famiglia, Fugui, non resiste alla tentazione del gioco d'azzardo e perde una fortuna alla bisca locale, invano rimproverato e supplicato dalla moglie. Perde cosi` anche la sua lussuosa casa. La moglie prende la bambina e lo lascia. Lui piange in strada disperato, ma non c'e` nulla da fare: il trasferimento di proprieta` viene formalizzato dal padre, che poi ne muore letteralmente di crepacuore. Il giocatore professionista Longer e` il nuovo padrone. A Fugui non rimane letteralmente che un carrettino. Ritrova Jiazhen, la moglie, che ha avuto il secondo figlio di cui era incinta. Insieme si ricostruiscono una vita. Lui sa soltanto fare il burattinaio.
Proprio quando e` diventato un marito e padre premuroso, scoppia la guerra, e lui viene obbligato ad arruolarsi nell'esercito nazionalista. Fa amicizia con un soldato. Un mattino si risvegliano e sono circondati da migliaia di cadaveri, mentre i comunisti avanzano come formiche. Fugui e il compagno si arrendono e Fugui diventa cosi` burattinaio per l'esercito comunista, raccontando storie didascaliche. Fugui puo` ritornare a casa, e riabbracciare la famiglia che e` tutta la sua vita. L'avvento dei comunisti cambia tutto. Longer viene arrestato e fucilato, come tutti i capitalisti, mentre Fugui e la sua famiglia devono vivere di stenti come tutti, ma se non altro sono vivi. La bambina e` muta, ma non importa. Vivono in allegria. Fugui continua a fare il burattinaio. Presto si diffonde il terrore dei comunisti, e Fugui stesso ne e`condizionato al punto da punire il figlio per compiacere un boss comunista. Un giorno, per celebrare la produzione di acciaio, i bambini della scuola vengono chiamati a presenziare la visita di un ufficiale comunista. Jiazhen vorrebbe che il figlio continuasse a riposare, ma Fugui insiste perche' compia il suo dovere e faccia onore alla famiglia, se non che' il figlio muore investito proprio dall'auto dell'ufficiale. Non ha avuto neppure il tempo di mangiare il pranzo che la madre gli aveva messo in una cassetta. La madre glielo lascia sulla tomba.
Per ironia della sorte si scopre che l'ufficiale e` proprio l'ex commilitone di Fugui, che gli chiede invano perdono.
Scoppiata la rivoluzione culturale, Fugui e` costretto a bruciare le sue marionette. Un operaio storpio, un rispettato membro del partito, s'innamora della figlia muta e un giorno compie la cortesia di riparare la loro casa e di dipingere sul muro d'ingresso un ritratto di Mao. I due si sposano con la benedizione dei genitori.
L'ex commilitone in compenso cade in disgrazia: viene arrestato in quanto tenero di cuore con i capitalisti, sua moglie si "suicida", deve lasciare la regione. Ma e` ancora tormentato dal rimorso, e prima, per saldare il suo debito, supplica Fugui e la moglie di accettare tutto il suo denaro. Mentre il viallggio e` sempre piu` in rovina, anche il capo dei comunisti locali, che e` sempre stato loro amico, viene processato. L'ondata di processi contro gli intellettuali "reazionari" ha creato l'anarchia. La figlia e` incinta e non ci sono piu` dottori per visitare i pazienti. La madre la tranquillizza e la distrae con l'idea di prendere una fotografia all'anno del bambino. Ci sono soltanto giovanissime infermiere invasate di dottrina maoista. Le pareti sono coperte di proclami ideologici. L'operaio deve far ricorso agli amici comunisti per farsi consegnare un anziano dottore. Fugui lo sfama di nascosto, ma al momento in cui serve il suo aiuto (la partoriente ha un'emorragia) il vecchio crolla per indigestione. Le infermiere sono soltanto studentesse e vengono colte dal panico: la partoriente muore.
Passano gli anni. Fugui e Jiazhen hanno allevato il nipote. Ogni anno la nonna deposita una fotografia del bambino sulla tomba della figlia...

Shanghai Triad (1995)

Shuisheng e` un adolescente che arriva nella Shanghai degli anni '30 per essere assunto al servizio di un potente e ricco boss mafioso. Ad accoglierlo e` il parente che lo ha raccomandato, un assistente fedele del boss. Shu assiste subito a un regolamento di conti, eseguito come ordinaria amministrazione. La sera il parente lo porta al club dove si esibisce la bella e crudele donna del boss e lo presenta alla sua nuova padrona: il suo lavoro sara` infatti quello di servire la cantante e ballerina.
Il ragazzo non e` entusiasta del posto e della sua padrona e vorrebbe tornarsene al villaggio, ma e` troppo tardi. Involontariamente diventa testimone delle crisi della sgualdrina, che ha un amante giovane, Song, che e` uno dei due vice del boss, e vorrebbe ribellarsi al vecchio boss, ma non puo` fare nulla altrimenti perderebbe tutto il suo potere. Una notte il ragazzo sente agitazione e scopre un mucchio di cadaveri, fra cui quello dello zio: e` stato un grasso rivale del boss a tendere loro un agguato, e lo zio e` morto proteggendo il boss.
Il boss lascia la villa lussuosa di citta` per ritirarsi nella sicurezza della campagna, e si porta dietro la cantante, e di conseguenza il ragazzo. Nella quieta maestosa della campgna la cantante si annoia a morte. Per passare il tempo, importuna la vicina contadina, di cui ha scoperto una una tresca nasconde amorosa.
Song viene a trovarli con un gruppo di sicari. Il ragazzo sente i sicari di Song che si preparano a uccidere la cantante. Avverte il boss che sta giocando a carte con Song e la cantante. Il boss non si scompone: sa gia` tutto. Sa che Song frequentava la sua donna, sa che Song si era alleato al boss rivale ed e` responsabile dell'eccidio, e sa che e` venuto a ucciderli. Anzi, ha preparato lui la trappola per vendicarsi: non solo lo uccidera`, ma fara` credere che sia stato il suo rivale a ucciderlo e poi uccidera` il rivale come vendetta. In questa maniera tutta Shanghai esaltera` il suo valore e la sua fedelta` ai suoi uomini. Lo fa seppellire vivo sotto la pioggia.
L'ottavo e ultimo giorno del film Poi tocca alla cantante. Il boss la condanna a morire. La donna ha finalmente un sussulto di generosita` e gli chiede di risparmiare la contadina, che era intanto diventata sua amica. Ma il boss ha gia` fatto uccidere la contadina per timore che lei le avesse rivelato troppo. E ha deciso di prendere con se' la bambina per allevarla e farne da grande la sua nuova amante. Il ragazzo ha un improvviso impeto di fedelta` nei confronti della sua padrona e corre nella pioggia per tentare di salvarla, ma viene stordito dalle guardie del boss.
Si risveglia appeso a testa in giu` e ascolta impotente il boss conversare con la bambina.
Il film non inventa nulla che il gangster movie degli anni '30 non avesse gia` inventato, ma lo congela in immagini di purezza cristallina e lo immerge in colori saturi. Anche il racconto e` di una linearita` e classicita` esemplari. L'attenzione per l'ambiente e per i costumi prevale sull'avventura. L'avventura entra soltanto di riflesso nella vita del ragazzo. Il gangster movie perde la sua connotazione di genere violento e diventa semplicemente il mondo corrotto della citta` visto dagli occhi di un ragazzino di provincia.

Qiu Ju Da Guan Si/ Story Of Qiu Ju (1992) is a minor film, a portrait of an innocent who has to face and gets to learn the hostile world. She is constantly shocked by the reaction of the officials, the men who who are supposed to be fair to the people. In a remote rural village, a woman takes her injured husband Qailing to the doctor. He has just had a fight with the village chief who hit him in the genitals. Qiu Ju is not reassured by the doctor, whom she suspects of being veterinarian. Qui then meets with the authorities of the nearby city to seek reparation: she is not interested in money, but in an apology. But they only award her a fine and call for both parties to perform "self-criticism". The chief, on the other hand, doesn't feel that he has to apologize and complains with the head of the complaint office that awarded the fine.
She is pregnant, and not very intelligent, and it is getting winter, but she is also very determined. She travels by bus to another big city, always with her little sister in law, and discovers a world she didn't know. She even rides in the car with the director. Back home again, she is met with curiosity by friends and relatives who want to hear her stories, but the husband is called and wants to drop the matter. But the woman is stubborn: she wants an apology. But the court simply tells the chief to pay the fine, and still no apology is mandated. The chief talks to the husband, offers him money, and asks him to drop the matter. The husband can't help admitting that it's his wife who runs the show. The chief then faces her and she simply throws the money back at him. Then leaves again, after an argument with the husband, and again taking her sister in law with her. The roads are now covered with snow. She goes back to the director, who tells her that she can hire an attorney. The attorney forces her to sue the director, who is a good person and she is very reluctant to do so. Even the director advises her to go ahead so she does. But the court rejects her lawsuit. She can appeal and she decides to appeal. Her quest for justice doesn't seem to know obstacles.
But then the labors start and she's about to lose her baby, her husband asks the chief for help. The chief runs to the city and then helps carry the woman on a stretcher through snow fields to the hospital. The child is born and she is safe. The chief is just a nice man who would like to leave the past behind. He even helps carry the woman and the child back to the village.
Now the roles are inverted. The woman wants to celebrate and invites the chief, but the chief has not forgotten and doesn't want to accept the invitation. The woman convinces him, but right when the banquet is about to start and officer shows up with the news that X-rays prove she's always been right: the chief broke a rib of her husband. Not only her appeal will be heard, but the chief has been arrested. The party is spoiled and the woman is now desperate that she caused all of this. She runs in the snow but there is nothing to be done.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Francesca Ricci)

Qiu Ju Da Guan Si/ La Storia di Qiu Ju (1992) è un film minore, il ritratto di un’innocente costretta a sperimentare e a confrontarsi con l’ostilità del mondo, costantemente scioccata dalla reazione degli ufficiali, gli uomini che dovrebbero essere i primi a comportarsi onestamente con la gente.

In un remoto villaggio di campagna, una donna accompagna dal dottore il marito Qai ling, rimasto ferito durante uno scontro col capovillaggio che lo ha colpito ai genitali. Qiu Ju non è rassicurata dal dottore che sospetta essere un veterinario. Qiu allora s’incontra con le autorità della città vicina per cercare riparo: non è interessata al denaro ma pretende delle scuse. Le viene accordata soltanto una multa ed entrambe le parti sono richiamate ad osservare un’autocritica. Il capo, da parte sua, non ritiene di doversi scusare e protesta al direttore dell’ufficio reclami che gli ha assegnato la multa.

Qiu Ju è incinta, non molto intelligente, ma, nonostante l’inverno alle porte, è anche molto determinata. Si reca, in autobus, in un’altra grande città, sempre accompagnata dalla sua piccola cognata, e scopre un mondo a lei finora sconosciuto. Va persino in macchina col direttore. Al ritorno a casa, è attesa con curiosità da amici e parenti che vogliono ascoltare le sue avventure; viene chiamato il marito che vuole lasciar perdere la faccenda. Ma la donna è testarda: pretende delle scuse. La corte però chiede semplicemente al capo di pagare la multa e le scuse non sono ancora ordinate. Il capo parla col marito, gli offre del denaro e gli chiede di lasciar perdere la faccenda. Il marito deve riconoscere che è la moglie a decidere sulla questione. Il capo allora s’incontra con lei ed ella semplicemente gli tira dietro il suo denaro. Poi riparte, dopo un litigio col marito, e, di nuovo, porta con sé la piccola cognata. Le strade ora sono coperte di neve. Torna dal direttore, che le presenta la possibilità di rivolgersi ad un procuratore. Il procuratore la costringe a fare causa al capo, che è però un buon uomo, Qiu Ju quindi è molto restia. Anche il direttore le consiglia di procedere, e così decide di farlo. Ma la corte respinge la causa. Qiu Ju può fare appello, e decide di farlo. La sua sete di giustizia sembra non conoscere ostacoli. Ma poi inizia il travaglio ed ella sta per perdere il bambino; il marito chiede aiuto al capo. Il capo corre in città ed aiuta a trasportare la donna in barella attraverso i campi innevati, fino all’ospedale. Il bambino nasce e lei è salva. Il capo è un brav’uomo che vorrebbe solamente lasciarsi il passato alle spalle. Aiuta persino a trasportare la donna ed il bambino al villaggio. Adesso i ruoli si sono invertiti. La donna vuole celebrare ed invita il capo, ma il capo non ha dimenticato e non vuole accettare l’invito. La donna lo convince, ma proprio nel momento in cui il banchetto sta per iniziare, arriva un ufficiale con la notizia che la radiografia prova che ella ha avuto ragione fin dall’inizio: il capo ha rotto una costola al marito. Non soltanto il suo appello verrà accettato, ma il capo viene arrestato. La festa è rovinata e la donna è adesso disperata perché è stata lei la causa di tutto. Corre nella neve, ma non c’è niente da fare.

Yi Ge Dou Bu Neng Shao/ Not One Less (1999) is a realistic drama that breaks with Yimou's previous style. Instead of historical epics and domestic melodrama, Yimou films a humble story in a humble landscape (on location, and using non-professional actors), but a moving one. The teacher of a remote mountain village has to leave because his mother is dying, and the mayor can only find a 13-year old girl, Wei, to take his place. The teacher has not been paid for six months and the only thing he has is chalk, but Wei insists in being paid what she was promised. She doesn't get it, but the teacher makes her promise that she will take care of the children: ten have already left the school and he doesn't want to lose anymore ("not one less"). Wei is obviously not up to the task of teaching to children just a few years younger than her, but she is stubborn and feels the responsibility of not losing more students. Unfortunately, the mayor decides that one of the children is fast enough to go to a sports school. That's already one less. Then the family of another child decides to pull him out of school and send him to work to the city. Wei can't accept that. She decides to travel to the city and bring him back, but needs the money to buy a bus ticket. The class tries to help. Suddenly, they are all doing math, trying to work out how many bricks they should move at the nearby factory in order to buy a bus ticket. Eventually, the math proves that it would be just impossible. The solution is that Wei boards the bus illegaly, but only to be thrown out after a few kms. Instead of going back, Wei hitch hikes her way to the city. But only to find out that the child never made it to the shop where the children are employed: he was lost at the train station. Wei spends all her money to find the child (first she hires a child to help her in her search, and then she buys paper, pen and ink to write posters at the station), but soon she realizes it is useless. A passenger at the train station suggests she goes on tv. She walks to the tv station, but she is not even allowed inside the precint because she doesn't have any id. She waits outside the gate, asking every man if he is the station manager. She desists only when night falls and the gate is closed. The following day she's back in front of the gate, and this time the station manager in person notices her, and takes her in. He is a nice man and wants to help, but she has no money to pay for a commercial. So they have her as an improvised guest at a tv show. The show host lets her plead for the child to come back. The child, who is roaming the city's markets, is spotted by a shop owner who turns him in.
Wei can finally go back to her village with the lost child, and the tv crew decides to tag along. When the cars of the tv station arrive at the village, everybody runs to meet Wei and the lost child. The tv host announces that many spectators have donated money for the school and interviews the mayor, who describes the run-down conditions of the building. The children finally have enough chalk to write on the blackboard.

Xingfu shiguang/ Happy Times (2000) is a good-natured comedy that takes aim at ordinary characters in a rural setting.

Zhao is a middle-aged bachelor who pays a matchmaker to find him a wife. The matchmaker comes up with a fat, scheming widow whom Zhao somehow falls madly in love with. To make sure that she will reciprocate, Zhao pretends to be a wealthy hotel owner and orders a royal wedding. Unfortunately, the truth is that he is unemployed and has very little money. He has friends, and tries to make the most of them: Zhao and friends refurbish an abandoned bus and turn it into the "Happy Times Hotel", that caters to young couples. The business flounders, though, because Zhao does not want the customers to lock the door.
At his fiance's house, Zhao meets her charming but blind stepdaughter Wu, whom his fiance is treating with arrogance. Wu desperately needs money to afford an eye operation. Zhao can't help offering her a job at the "hotel". Luckily, the hotel has just been demolished and Zhao thinks he can just return the girl to her stepmother. Unfortunately, the evil woman has already disposed of all of Wu's belongings and has installed her own son into Wu'sher room. Zhao has no choice but to offer Wu hospitality. He then convinces his friends to create the illusion of a thriving hotel in an abandoned warehouse which becomes Wu's workplace. To pay Wu, Zhao prints a facsimile of banknotes that fool the blind Wu. However, Wu eventually finds out the truth. Zhao is sorry anyway that he has been lying to her all the time so he confesses.
In the meantime, his fiance` has found another man who is really rich and does not hesitate to ditch Zhao. Zhao and Wu are therefore free to recognize in each other the solution to their loneliness.
Wo De Fu Qin Mu Qin / The Road Home (2000), adapted from Bao Shi's novel "Remembrance", is set in rural China during Mao's Cultural Revolution. Like with The Story of Qui Ju and Not One Less (admittedly two superior films), this is another saga about a determined woman defying all odds to accomplish her mission. But this time the subject is a love story, the kind that borders on a fairy tale. And the story sounds like a pretext for concocting lush photography (credit cinematographer Yong Hou). Very few words are wasted in the movie, that relies mostly on images to tell the story. It looks like a more lyical and melodramatic version of Abbas Kierostami's populist movies. A young man, Yusheng Luo, is informed by the mayor of his hometown that his father just died. He drives back to the mountain village. It is winter and the roads are covered with snow. His father was the school teacher and he, Yusheng Luo, is the first person of the village who went to college. Like all the young people of the village, he then went to work in the big city. It turns out his father died in a storm, unable to complete his dream of building a new school. His mother now wants to bring him back from the provincial hospital, many kms away, on foot, as the tradition mandates (so the dead person remembers his way home). The village is ready to help carry the coffin, but they are mostly elderly people who cannot walk for so many kms.
A long flashback begins in which Yusheng narrates how his parents got married. In contrast with the winter of the present, the past is set in a colorful summer. Yusheng's mother Di was a pretty girl when Yusheng's father, Changyu, a young handsome man, was transferred to the village to become its teacher, forty years earlier. Di, who lived with her blind mother, immediately fell in love with the newcomer, while the young man was too busy to notice the pretty teenager. There was no school yet. The men had to build it, and Di was in charge of weaving the cloth to be hanged from the new school. When the school was finally ready, the whole village (that had never seen a teacher before) assembled to listen to the first lesson. As Yusheng began to notice Di, Di was told by her mom that she has no hope of marrying the educated young man, because he belonged to a higher social class. When the political trouble of the cultural revolution caused a recall of all teachers, Changyu promised Di that he would be back. As a horse carriage carried him away, Di cried bitter tears. Running on the hills to catch a last glimpse of the carriage, she lost a clip for her hair that Yusheng had given her, but she found it near her own house. Winter came and Di was still waiting. Eventually he did return and they never parted again. (We have no evidence that this is really what happened: it is just what Yusheng tells us. It might well be that he is imagining the love story, that he is the dreamer).
Now convinced that his mom's wish must be carried out, Yusheng is ready to hire men men from another village to help carry his father's coffin home. But there is no need: the day the procession is to start, dozens of former students of the deceased show up to help, and the men who were hired refuse to get paid. The procession makes it slowly towards the village, where the deceased is finally buried. The school is rebuilt, as he had wished.
The only annoying part of the film is the Hollywood-ian soundtrack, reminiscent of Titanic and worse. It pretty much spoils all the best moments.

Ying Xiong/ Hero (2002), Zhang Yimou's first action film (and reportedly the most expensive film in Chinese history), is a stylish piece of art (reminiscent of Kurosawa) that uses images rather than actions to tell a story. The gravity-defying scenes are not as obnoxious as in other martial-arts films, and the story is blatantly implausible only when it has to be (because it is telling a viewpoint). The solemn pace, the elaborate plot (that involves multiple viewpoints), the veiled tribute to Chinese civilization via its passion for music and calligraphy, the higher-level duel between revenge and forgiveness that oversees all the carnal duels at the lower level (as it is revealed at the end), the continuous struggle between love and hate that underscores the actions of the mythological characters, and the life-defying romantic ending give the film a much deeper and stronger meaning that a mere story of medieval knights fighting for their honor. Besides Kurosawa, who inspired both the visual style and the multiple-viewpoint approach, one can also detect the influence of Greek tragedy (the army behaves like the Greek choir) and of Shakespeare (in the mortal decisions that all the protagonists have to make in order to fullfil their destinies). A major difference is that this hero is nameless, a fact that stands for the Chinese appreciation of humility, as opposed to western grandeur and hunger for eternal glory. The Chinese hero is perfectly aware (and willing) of being only a pawn in a complex apparatus to achieve some good. He basically takes no credit for it, and doesn't even want to be remembered by his name, only by his deeds.

In feudal times, a nameless warrior is being rewarded (in front of thousand of people) for killing three legendary enemies of the king. When they meet in private in a huge empty hall, the king asks him to relate the tale of his triumph, but then provides his own commentary to it.
According to the hero, Broken Sword and Flying Snow were lovers. Then Snow slept with Long Sky and so Sword did not speak to her for three years. The hero first challenged Sky in a duel performed in front of an old musician (to emphasize the similarity between music and martial arts). After defeating him, he had to face the deadly couple of Snow and Sword. The king can hardly believe that he alone defeated them: the two had managed to attack his palace, overthrowing thousands of guards. The hero explains how he found Sword in a school of calligraphy. He challenged Sword to write a difficult character. Right at that time, the king's huge army attacked the school. Thousands of archers shot their arrows across the sky. (The attack is initially seen from the point of view of an arrow, and later the sky is shown littered with thousands of them). The pupils tried to escape from the hall of writing but the old master reproached them and told them to continue their work, no matter what. He sat calmly at his writing station and continued to write, soon imitated by all the pupils, while the arrows pierced the roof and fell all around them. Sword kept working on his character. As he tells the story, the hero emphasizes the similarity between calligraphy and martial arts. The king scorns calligraphy and vows to simplify it once he conquers all kingdoms and becomes the sole emperor of China. The hero tells how he and Snow alone fought against the arrows that were flying towards the school. Oddly enough, the army did not attack the undefended school but merely laid siege to it. Sword finished his scroll and hero spent hours contemplating it to find out the secret of his swording (believing that calligraphy skills recapitulates swording skills). The hero invited both Sword and Snow to a secret meeting at midnight. At that meeting, he told them that he had killed Sky and that Sky's last words had been for Snow. This arouses Sword's jealousy. Sword sleeps with his beautiful assistant. The following morning, Snow kills him. The beautiful assistant challenges her in a duel. They fight in a storm of dead leaves. Snow doesn't want to kill her, but eventually realizes that the young girl wants to die, and thus helps her die. The hero then easily defeated Snow in front of the king's armies. This concludes the hero's story, but it's only half of the film.
Now the king talks: he doesn't believe his story. The king senses that it is all the opposite, that the three celebrated outlaws did not betray each other, and that the hero is part of a conspiracy to assassinate him, the king. The king thinks that Sky the invincible let the hero kill him because it was the only way to get an assassin into the king's hall. Sky was so determined to have the king killed that he was willing to sacrifice his own life for a plan that would work. The king also suspect that Sky had never met the two lovers. But the two lovers knew Sky's reputation, and were moved that he gave his life for the cause. They too were willing to die to make sure the king died. So they accepted the hero's plan: Snow pretended to kill Sword (actually, only wounded him) and then pretended to fight a duel against the hero in front of the king's army but in reality let him kill her. With these two fake duels, the hero obtained access to the king, the most difficult step for any would-be assassin.
The hero admits that the king is righto: he is indeed part of a conspiracy. He was raised in his kingdom, but he was in fact born in an enemy kingdom. But there are a few details that the king got wrong. When he met with Snow and Sword, he found two people who had different ideas: Snow, the daughter of a general once killed by the king, wanted revenge, but Sword, for unknown reasons, pledged to save the king's life. They both hated him and belonged to the same kingdom as the hero, but Sword was stubbornly against killing the king. Snow had no choice but wound Sword, so that he could not stop the hero. Then the hero and Snow staged the fake duel. Snow is in fact still alive, wounded but alive, just like Sword. Sword came to dissuade the hero again. Sword said that he understood from calligraphy the importance of not killing the king. The hero would not hear of it. Then Sword used his sword to write two letters in the sand: "our land". As the king hears the hero's story he is perplexed: what do those words mean? The hero explains that Sword had realized (through calligraphy) the importance of peace, that prevails over everything else: if the king is murdered, there will be more words. If the king's life is spared, the king will go on conquering and eventually bring peace to the entire empire. Thus Sword had decided that it was better to let the enemy win, but enforce peace, than keep fighting forever. The king is moved that his number one enemy had actually understood. The king gives his own sword to the hero and tells him to decide based on the good of the land, while thousands of soldiers enter the hall. The hero does not hesitate: he junps at the king... but does not kill him. His mission is over after this killing that was not really a killing. He walks out of the palace, surrounded by thousands of soldiers. In the meantime, Snow hears the news and cries, while Sword tries in vain to explain that he desires her over anything else. Snow draws the sword and attacks Sword, who lets her kill him, the ultimate proof of his devotion for her. He dies in her arms. She hugs his dead body and pushes the sword further in, so that it kills her too.
In the meantime, the hero has positioned himself in front of the thousand of archers. They demand in unison that he be executed for attempting to kill the king. The king is reluctant, but both he and the hero understand that it is necessary for the sake of uniting the country and fostering peace. The king gives the order and thousands of arrows fly towards the hero, who waits without moving. His body is then carried inside the palace in a majestic procession: executed like a criminal, but buried like a hero.
The king went on to conquer all kingdoms and unify China for the first time.

House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005)

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Sanqiang Pai'an Jingqi/ A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2009) was a remake of the Coen brothers' Blood Simple (1984).

He then turned decisively to colossal historical dramas such as The Flowers of War (2011) and The Great Wall (2016), losing much of his magic.

Ying/ Shadow (2018) is basically a costumed soap opera, partly melodramatic and sometimes gruesome, that depicts an amoral world of endless intrigue and cynical calculations.

Years earlier, the Pei kingdom was deafeated by the Yang kingdom, and the latter still occupies the town of Jing in the mountains, but then the two kingdoms signed a peace treaty. The king of Pei has sent his old minister Lu and his commander Ziyu to Yang's birthday party. They returned with the news that Ziyu, determined to avenge his honor after having lost a duel against Yang, has challenged Yang to another duel. The king is furious. Ziyu himself admits that he stands few chances of winning the duel, and his challenge amounts to a declaration of war, whereas the king has strived to maintain peace. The king forces Ziyu to play a duet on guqin with his wife. His wife refuses claiming that she vowed never to play again unless the lost city is reconquered. The king strips Ziyu of his title but saves his life. The king then sends Lu on a new mission: to offer the king's sister, the princess, as a wife to the Yang king's son. This would cement the alliance. His sister accuses him of being a coward. Meanwhile, Ziyu's wife uses a secret passage to walk into a hallway and reach a cave. There the real Ziyu is hiding. Reduced a cripple after the duel with the Yang king, he has been training a double to take his place. He uses a sword to wound the false Ziyu, named Jing like the town, in the same place near the heart where the Yang king wounded him. Jing is originally from the town of Jing, and has left behind his blind mom. Ziyu's uncle, fearing for Ziyu's life, had the idea of kidnapping this child and raising him to by Ziyu's double. Ziyu is training him to become as good a fighter as himself. Jing's motivation to serve Ziyu's sinister plot is to rejoin his mother in Jing. Now we realize why his wife refused to play the guqin with the false Ziyu, Jing: Jing doesn't know how to play the instrument, is still learning. Lu returns from his mission and reports that the Yang king accepts the princess but only as his own concubine, not as his son's wife. That's an insulting proposition, but the Pei king nonetheless accepts. The whole court is shocked. A senior general, Tian, rebels. The Yang king has decided so because he and his son don't want to surrender the town by marriage. Ziyu's wife relates everything to her (real) husband in the secret cave, where the training of the false Ziyu continues. The false Ziyu, now a commoner, decides to raise an army of volunteers to reconquer Jing city, and Tian offers to join it. Jing takes him to meet the real Ziyu, so Tian now knows that the public Ziyu is a double. Tian trains Ziyu's army. Meanwhile, the Pei king tells his sister, the princess, that the marriage offer is a decoy. Jing, the false Ziyu, tells Ziyu's wife that he knows he is just a decoy. They have fallen in love and make love, not knowing that the real Ziyu can see everything from a peephole. It is the last night that the false Ziyu spends at Pei's castle. The real Ziyu is secretely dreaming of becoming king of both kingdoms. The following day an elaborate duel is prepared. The false Ziyu arrives on a colossal raft and challenges against the Yang king, who again accepts. What the Yang king cannot see is that under the raft an entire army is hiding. Among the soldiers is also the princess. While the duel begins on the raft, the soldiers swim underwater and enter Jing town, led by Tian. They are armed with deadly steel umbrellas. The false Ziyu is no match for the Yang king but refuses the generous offer of a draw. The soldiers attack the Yang troops. The Pei princess and the Yang prince end up killing each other. A wounded Tian leads his troops to victory and the town is won. The Yang king, realizing the betrayal, tries to finish the false Ziyu, but the false Ziyu manages to kill him. Jing, the false Ziyu, enters the town and looks for his mother, but finds her dead. It is an ambush: assassins try to kill him. Tian saves him. The king arrives to take possession of Jing town. It turns out that the king had planned the whole thing, and that Tian still works for him. Jing has been used by everybody. Back at the Pei castle, the king orders the beheading the real Ziyu. The king is celebrating the victory when Jing walks in, wounded. The king welcomes him and promotes him to commander. The king also unmasks Lu as a traitor who was spying for the Yang, and kills him. The king also knows that Jing is not the real Ziyu, but offers him Ziyu's position and... his wife. One of the masked assassins walks inside carrying a box that contains Ziyu's head. But when the king opens the box, the box is empty. The guard turns out to be the real Ziyu, who has killed all the assassins, and now mortally stabs the king. As the king is agonizing, Ziyu then tells Jing that the king ordered the killing of his mother. Jing seems to believe him but then kills him. Jing then finishes the king who is still agonizing and positions Ziyu so that there is no doubt that Ziyu killed the king. The only witness is Ziyu's wife, who has watched terrified. Jing then limps out and tells Tian and the assembled army that the evil Ziyu killed the king but he, Jing, killed the assassin. Ziyu's wife runs behind him but then stops at the door, as if torn between telling everybody that Jing killed the king and going along with the fiction.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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