Monday, August 11, 2008

Less Mao, more Sun?

Who do you think of when seeing this?

Which political leader do you associate most with China, especially modern China? Hu Jintao may be the current President of the People's Republic of China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen may be known to millions of Chinese as the Father of Modern China, and Deng Xiaoping certainly had an impact on the country but my definite sense is that for most people in the world, it's still Mao Zedong who they most associate with China.

Interestingly, however, it seems that Mao's grip on the imagination of the contemporary denizens of the state he had a major hand in establishing looks to be loosening somewhat recently. Put another way: if a major ceremony like August 8th's Beijing Olympics opener had been staged even just a decade ago, would it have been likely that there would be no mention of Mao whatsoever during it? As for the Mao jacket: According to a International Herald Tribune article from December of that year, those previously iconic pieces of clothing were already "just a memory" in Beijing 2004.

Then there are the comments of Chinese conceptual artist Sui Jianguo -- an exhibition of whose works is currently on at Hong Kong's Times Square -- in yesterday's Sunday Morning Post (which, like the rest of the South China Morning Post, requires a subscription to access it online) about his art works that more than one person has seen as referencing Mao jackets but which he maintains are meant to "symbolise Sun Yat-sen's revolution in 1911, and the Chinese's reverence for [Sun]" even while also noting that that particular piece of clothing is "part of our culture and tradition. Not everyone wears it now, but it's still in our soul and spirit..."


Glenn, kenixfan said...

It was weird watching the largely empty Zhang Yimou spectacle Friday night to not see any visual reference to Mao or his era; for all the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and other events in the Mao era, he *did* pull the world's largest population together after the war with the Nationalists; watching the Olympics ceremony would be like watching an American version that didn't mention the events of the middle part of this century -- jumping from cowboys out West to the current age.

And on a movie note (since it's always movies with me): that square in the picture looks like where the beginning of Shaolin Soccer took place. Am I right?

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

I take it you were generally unimpressed by the Olympics Opening Ceremony? If so, wonder whether it had to do with you -- and your fellow Americans -- not getting to see the spectacle unfold 'live'. (And if you're wondering, I was more enthralled by it all than I expected to be.)

As for your movie question: Don't think so as, from what I've been given to understand, "Shaolin Soccer" was shot in Shanghai and Zhuhai rather than Hong Kong... ;S

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Shaolin Soccer was not shot in Hong Kong? Now you're going to tell me there's no Santa Claus! What gives? So those scenes of Chow courting Zhao Wei were not shot there?

I was as impressed as I can be by spectacles like that; I did find myself thinking that if not for Zhang Yimou's hand in the festivities, I would not have turned them on at all.

Do you ever stop and pause and think about just how different Zhang Yimou's work is now? I mean, who would have thought the same guy who did Red Sorghum and Ju Dou (banned in the Mainland, right?) would one day be doing the Olympics ceremony with the blessings of the Chinese govt AND turning out epic martial arts films with massive casts? I guess one could say that Scorsese made a similar leap from small, naturalistic films to epic ones as well but it's still stunning to me sometimes.

(^oo^) bad girl (^oo^) said...

i like......

YTSL said...

Hi again Glenn --

Looking back, I think that "Shaolin Soccer" was the first of Stephen Chow movies that were aimed more at the larger Mainland Chinese than Hong Kong market -- with "CJ7" especially exhibiting this trait.

Looking back some more -- this time in Zhang Yimou: I know where you're coming from. But even without it meaning that I am pro vs against the Communist Chinese government, find that I prefer Zhang Yimou's government approved works to his banned-in-Mainland China ones. As for your comments re his turning out massive martial arts works: Must say that it's surprised me more to see the UFO folks (i.e., Jacob Cheung and Peter Chan) doing so than Zhang Yimou or Chen Kaige!

Hi "bad girl" --

Glad you like! :b

Glenn, kenixfan said...

So government approved would be the mid-to-recent stuff, right?

I did like The Road Home quite a bit and I'm not a huge fan of Zhang Ziyi.

And Happy Times -- at the time -- seemed like a little masterpiece to me but I'll have to rewatch to reassess.

And the first time I watched To Live, I found it profoundly moving -- Gong Li's final crying scene in the hospital was like someone kicked me in the stomach. It seemed like a solid film the second time around too.

I still can't find a DVD of his Keep Cool with English subtitles; read his interviews about it but it seems impossible to find over here.

(Gee, I derailed another of your comments pages, I think. LOL!)

YTSL said...

Hi again Glenn --

Before anything else: Thread derailing is okay -- appreciate your comments! Also, have to say that I get the feeling you have seen -- and liked -- more Zhang Yimou works than moi...

Re government approved: I'm thinking of "Not One Less" (1999) on. Actually, that -- and the much maligned "Curse of the Golden Flower" -- are the Zhang Yimou films I've seen and liked best. Far more than "Raise the Red Lantern" along with "Hero" (which I just couldn't get myself to go beyond more than 1/2 an hour of), etc.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

I think a large part of what made Hero work for me was that, when I saw it, I had gone to great lengths to get the DVD since the Miramax people had already clamped down on it and were holding it hostage for another year or so. That probably made it seem better than it is -- though I still think the Yen/Li fight is amaing and the calligraphy school sequence still takes my breath away.

I did like Not One Less because it seemed like he probably just showed up with a camera and made a film and it worked as a drama on such simple terms.

Same with Story of Qiu Jiu as well.

I thought you liked Red Sorghum a bit?

And I liked Shanghai Triad but I know I'm in the minority AND that if not for Gong Li, then I probably would have forgotten about the film instantly.

Did you ever see Zhang Yimou's acting in that Terracotta Warrior? The DVD I found last year with English subs was such horrible quality that I had a hard time enjoying the film after searching for it all these years.

sbk said...


Enjoyed the sculpture. I read the article on Siu Jianguo in the South China Morning Post ( I think it's free for August) and liked his other works too. Did you see the red dinosaur?

I thoroughly enjoyed the Olympics Opening Ceremony as did several of my friends. Such a wonderful spectacle! I liked Zhang's "Hero" for it's visualness. Also I thought "Not One Less" told an entertaining straight forward story. Nothing fancy just likable.

I have a mediocre quality VCD of the "Terracotta Warrior" which I though was a little corny (I do like movies about the terracotta warriors which are kinda of corny by definition)and I enjoyed it. Zhang Yimou was okay in the role but he's a better director than actor I think.

YTSL said...

Hi once more Glenn --

Re "Hero": My problem with it was the music. More specifically, it was too similar to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"'s and often times, I started seeing scenes from CTHD in the mind's eye upon hearing "Hero"'s music -- very distracting really!

Confession: Have never seen "Red Sorghum". (Like I wrote before, get the feeling you've seen more Zhang Yimou films than me. Frankly, Zhang -- and, even more so, Chen Kaige -- are directors who I just don't care for as much as many others!)

And yeah, saw "Terracotta Warrior". Found it all too weird and voyeuristic -- considering that he was having an affair with Gong Li at the time, I just felt like their love scenes were too close to reality, you know? ;(

Hi sbk --

Oooo re the SCMP's website being free for August and yeah, there's a lot about that organisation that I still have to learn about. ;)

Back full circle to Siu Jianguo's sculptures: Yes, I did see the red dinosaur as well as the Mao/Sun jacket, etc. :)

Willow said...

I enjoyed the opening ceremony. Very different and innovative than openings past. RE the music, I felt like I was waiting for the BIG number. I thought it was a little too serene.

YTSL said...

Hi Willow --

Wow, you sound like quite the Olympics opening ceremony watcher. Me... I think the Beijing one was the first that I pretty much watched from beginning to end. (Goofed re the beginning time: Thought it would be 8:08pm rather than 8pm! ;D)

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Wow, you're such a movie person I am a bit surprised that you have not seen Red Sorghum. I don't think it's on DVD in America -- still -- and the video is a bit rare too but it's definately worth the search -- I don't want to say too much about it because I think I'd diminish its impact. I'm sure it's on VCD over there somewhere. And it is heavy on showing off Gong Li but that fits her role in that film.

I finally read something yesterday that explained why we didn't see Andy Lau at the opening ceremony -- he, Karen Mok, Jackie, and others performed so late that most people were leaving by then -- I thought maybe the US TV coverage just left them out but I guess not.

Why is the SCMP a paid site anyway? I used to love that site when it was free.

YTSL said...

Hi once more Glenn --

Re "Red Sorghum": Like I wrote before on this thread, I'm not really a fan of the early Zhang Yimou (and not a fan of Chen Kaige in general). Nor a fan of Gong Li. So Zhang Yimou-Gong Li and Chen Kaige-Gong Li combinations are generally off-putting rather than attractive for me -- and, in all honesty, there just are a whole lot more Chinese language movies that I rather see.

Re the SCMP's website being a paid site: I guess they decided that they could make money that way. And yeah, I loved that site when it was free too.

A. said...

I didn't watch the ceremony live, but what I did see made me wonder just how London was going to manage in comparison. I'm dreading it :S

To get back to your original question, yes I do still think of Mao associated with China, and I would have assumed the sculpture was somehow referencing him.

YTSL said...

Hi a. --

I was reading comments on The Guardian that voiced similar sentiments to yours about London 2012 vis a vis Beijing 2008. Someone suggested going the other way and going for an austerity style Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. That would make for quite a change, don't you think? ;b