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Biography #2 (for Happy Times)

ZHANG YIMOU, born in Xian, China in 1950, was in secondary school when the Cultural Revolution erupted in 1966. His studies were suspended and he was sent to work in the countryside in 1968, first on farms in Shanxi Province for three years, and from 1971 to 1978 as a laborer in a spinning mill. Interested in art and photography from an early age, Zhang pursued a hobby as a still photographer despite the scarcity of books and materials or the chance for his work to be published.

When the Beijing Film Academy held a nation-wide examination in 1978, Zhang enrolled and passed with high marks but was rejected because at age 27, he was five years beyond the accepted age limit. After two unsuccessful trips to Beijing to repeal the decision, he wrote directly to the Minister of Culture, pleading his case on the grounds that he had wasted ten years because of the Cultural Revolution. Two months later, he was accepted to study in the Film Academy's Department of Cinematography.

After graduating in 1982, he was assigned to work in the Guangxi Film Studio. In 1985 he moved to the Xian Film Studio and worked as a cinematographer on such films as One and the Eight (1982), directed by Zhang Junchao, Yellow Earth (1983) and The Big Parade (1985), both directed by Chen Kaige.

Zhang made his directorial debut in 1988 with Red Sorghum, starring Gong Li in her first film role. The film won the Golden Bear Award for Best Picture at the 1989 Berlin Film Festival. He went on to direct several more films with Gong Li including Ju Dou (1990) which was nominated for an Oscar in 1991; Raise the Red Lantern (1991) which was awarded the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was also nominated for an Academy Award; The Story of Qiu Ju (1992) which won the Golden Lion at the 1992 Venice Film Festival; To Live (1994) which won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actor Award at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival; and Shanghai Triad, which was an Official Selection in Cannes in 1995 and received the Best Foreign Language Film prize from the National Board of Review. Keep Cool was further premiered in competition in Venice in 1996. In 1997 he directed the Puccini opera Turandot in Florence, Italy with Zubin Mehta serving as conductor. In 1998, he and Mehta once again collaborated on a re-staging of the opera in Beijing's Forbidden City.

Not One Less was awarded the coveted Golden Lion, the top prize of the Venice Film Festival in 1999. The Road Home, starring Zhang Ziyi, won the Silver Bear at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival and the Audience Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. His upcoming film, Hero, stars Maggie Cheung, Jet Li, Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi with music by Tan Dun.

Bio courtesy Sony Classics for "Happy Times" (01-Jan-2000)


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