BEHIND THE GREAT WALL:
deciphering the twilit and allegorical film art
of Zhang Yimou
by Gary W. Wright
Hidden away behind the Great Wall of China was a myth that the Middle Kingdom was the epicentre of the “…inscrutable East”. However, a closer and more thoughtful meditation on the art of China revealed the same often satirical allegorical intent as in the art of the rest of the “United” Nations of Earth (UNE), a satirical allegorical intent that was present in its film art. A fittingly leading exemplar of China’s satirical allegorical film art was the country’s leading film artist, Zhang Yimou. For an interest in satirically roasting American and Canadian film artists and film “scholars” was implicitly present from when he donned the director’s hat for his first twilit and allegorical docufeature film HONG GAO LIANG aka RED SORGHUM (1988), released in February of 1988 and inspired by the twilit and allegorical Yan Mo docufiction novel Red Sorghum Clan (1986).
For with a group of Chinese peasants dying in their attempt to ambush a group of brutal and violent Japanese soldiers occupying China in World War II at the end of the film, Zhang implied that he felt that the leading American and Canadian film artists at that time had been destroyed by the helicopter crash that killed actor/writer/director Vic Morrow and illegally hired and used child extras Renee Chen and Myca Le around 2:20 am in the early morning of July 23, 1982 on the George Folsey jr. produced John Landis set of the twilit, allegorical, Kathleen Kennedy associate produced, Frank Marshall produced and Landis and Steven Spielberg executive produced Landis, Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller docufeature film TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983). For the doomed Chinese peasants resembled American and Canadian film artists resembled and were implicitly linked to Landis, Spielberg, James Cameron, Francis Coppola, Walt Disney, John Huston, Stanley Kubrick, Leonard Nimoy and John Waters, while the leader of the Japanese soldiers resembled and was implicitly linked to Marshall. Indeed, Zhang affirmed this implicit allegorical intent by alluding to the twilit, allegorical, Kennedy and Marshall produced and implicitly Cameron roasting Spielberg docufeature film EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987), a China created film that was also set in China during WWII.
Significantly, with the Coppola resembling peasant and his David Lynch resembling child surviving the final battle, Zhang also expressed his hope that Coppola and Lynch would survive the outraged audience backlash against film artists at the time and continue making film art. In addition, Zhang also implied a lack of interest in the computer generated imagery (CGI) quickly developed after the TZ disaster to deal with dangerous on set effects sequences like the one that caused the TZ disaster, for CGI free was RED SORGHUM. Curiously, however, while his next film was also CGI free, his implicit faith in Lynch disappeared when he donned the co-director’s hat and teamed up again with Gong Li-who played Wo Nainai, the beautiful young wife of the implicitly Coppola linked peasant-director of photography Chang Wei and composer Jiping Zhao-both from RED SORGHUM-and an actor who played a skinny peasant in that film and returned to the Temple Theatre with the twilit, allegorical and CGI free docufeature film JU DOU (1990), released on April 21, 1990 and co-directed by Yang Fengliang.
For the film saw an implicitly Lynch linked Chinese peasant Yang Tian-qing-played by Li Baotian-in his attempt to succeed his implicitly Kubrick linked father-in-law as the successful head of a silk dyeing business. In fact, both father-in-law and son-in-law were killed over the course of the film by the son-in-law’s son Tianbai-played as a child by Zhang Yi and as a boy by Zeng Ji-an, respectively-implying that Zhang had turned against Kubrick and Lynch, implicitly as a result of the release of controversial films like the twilit, allegorical and Ozian themed Lynch indie moving painting BLUE VELVET (1986) and the twilit and allegorical Kubrick indie docufeature artbuster FULL METAL JACKET (1987), given that both of them were alluded to in JU DOU. Significantly, Zhang then implicitly roasted Lynch even more memorabley when he donned the director hat and teamed up again with Gong, Jiping and JU DOU editor Yuan Du on the twilit, allegorical and CGI free docufeature film RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991), released on September 10, 1991 and inspired by the twilit and allegorical Su Tong docufiction novel Wives And Concubines (1990) and curiously shot in the manner of a Kubrick indie docufeature artbuster with stationary medium shots and long unedited scenes.
“Marry a rich man
and you will only be his concubine.”
Indeed, Zhang implicitly affirmed his Lynch roasting intent by implicitly linking the film’s four feuding mistresses of the wealthy Master Chang-played by Ma Jingwa-to the first four indie moving paintings of Lynch. Indeed, the first mistress, Yuru-played by Shuyuan Jin-resembled Lynch and evoked the luving grandmother-played by Dorothy McGinnis-grown with a magic seed in the allegorical Lynch indie moving painting THE GRANDMOTHER (1970); the next oldest second mistress, Zhuoyan-played by Cuifen Cao-evoked the Lady In The Radiator-played by Laurel Near-in the allegorical Lynch indie moving painting ERASERHEAD (1977); the third mistress, a beautiful ex-Chinese opera singer named Meishan-played by Saifei He-and her illicit luver Doctor Gao-played by Zhigang Cui-evoked the freakshow Siamese twins and Doctor Frederick Treves-played by Sir Anthony Hopkins-in the allegorical Lynch indie moving painting THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980), and the fourth, youngest and most beautiful and spiteful mistress, Songlian-played by Song-evoked the equally young and beautiful Princess Irulan-played by Virginia Madsen-in the twilit and allegorical Lynch indie moving painting DUNE (1984). Indeed, at the beginning of the film, Songlian faced the camera in a head and shoulders shot and introduced the film linked Princess Urulan at the beginning of DUNE, affirming the implicit link between the two characters.
In addition, the name of Master Chen reminded us that Chen Joan played Jocelyn “Josie” Packard in the twilit and allegorical Lynch telemoving painting series TWIN PEAKS (1990-91), implicitly reaffirming the film’s implicit interest in Lynch. In fact, the link reminded us that Lynch openly sympathized with Chinese occupied Tibet in TWIN PEAKS, a sympathy for the plight of Tibet that perhaps contributed to Zhang’s roast of Lynch in RAISE THE RED LANTERN. That the scheming and spiteful Songlian destroyed the peace and harmony of the labyrinthine and Hollywood studio evoking mansion of Master Chen in an unscrupulous attempt to unseat the beautiful and beguiling third mistress and become the Master’s number one mistress reaffirmed the implicit Lynch roasting intent of the film, for it reminded us that the failure of the extremely expensive DUNE destroyed the peace and harmony of Lynch-and almost destroyed his moving painting career. Thus, the sight and sound of Songlian wandering around in a lost and confused daze, in the end, after the murder of Meishan and the arrival of mistress number five who evoked Dorothy Vallens-played by Isabella Rossellini-in BLUE VELVET, implied the conviction of Zhang that Lynch had lost his way by 1991.
As for Zhang, he implied that he was not pleased with the response given RAISE THE RED LANTERN by the film authorities in China when he donned the director hat and returned with Song, Yuan, Zhao and RAISE THE RED LANTERN costume designer Huamiao Tong to the Temple Theatre with the twilit and allegorical docufeature film THE STORY OF QUI JU (1992), released on September 7, 1992 and inspired by the twilit and allegorical Chen Yuan Bin docufiction novel The Wan Family Lawsuit (1992).
“Look for a guy named Zhang.
Tell him your case.
He’ll write the complaint for you.
He will help you.”
Fittingly, the film began with Qui Ju, a young newlywed village woman-played by Song-slowly emerging from the Chinese masses thronging a town boulevard, a perfect visual metaphor for the slow emergence of Zhang as a serious Chinese film artist standing apart from his fellow citizens and from other film artists around the UNE. Curiously, however, Qui’s face was distraught and anxious, for it turned out that she and her sister-in-law Meizi-played by Yang Liuchun-were transporting her ailing husband Wan Qinglai-played by Liu Peiqi-by cart from their village to be looked at by a town doctor-played by Yu Di. Tragicomically, it turned out that her husband, after insulting the headman of their village Wang Shantang-played by Lei Kasheng-had been kicked in the crotch by the headman.
Curiously, after her husband was checked over by the doctor and Qui returned with him to their house in the village, Qui spent the rest of the film complaining to the authorities in the village and then in the nearby town and city so as to force the village chief to apologize to her husband. However, to her dismay, Qui was a little too successful in her determined and implacable quest, as to her shocked dismay the authorities took the village headman away to prison, in the end. Thus, Zhang implied that while he was hurt and embarrassed by the response of the Chinese authorities to RAISE THE RED LANTERN, he was also wary of criticizing them too much, lest one of those authorities be dealt with more harshly than he wanted.
Of course, since THE STORY OF QUI JU was released in 1992, the tenth anniversary of the TZ disaster, and since Zhang had used all of his earlier films to implicitly roast American film artists, it was also possible that Qui’s determination that her husband receive an apology symbolized the determination of Deborah Landis to secure an apology for the treatment of her husband John since the TZ disaster. If so, Zhang was warning her to gently release her anger, for fear of causing more problems. At any rate, after creating such twilit and allegorical docufeature films as TO LIVE (1994), SHANGHAI TRIAD (1995), KEEP COOL (1997), NOT ONE LESS (1999), THE ROAD HOME (1999), and HAPPY TIMES (2000)-and after being implicitly roasted by Lynch on one level in his twilit and allegorical indie moving painting MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001), for Coco Lenoix-played by Ann Miller-wore a Chinese-style blouse at one point and resembled Meishan, the doomed third mistress, in RAISE THE RED LANTERN-Zhang then donned the co-writer/director/co-producer hats to imply that he was replying to the popular twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced, Ozian themed and implicitly George Lucas roasting Lee Ang hung fu docufeature film CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the TZ disaster with the twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced and Ozian themed hung fu docufeature film (2002), released on October 24, 2002.
“For ten years
these three assassins from Zhao
have repeatedly plotted to kill his majesty,
so he has not known
a single peaceful night’s sleep.”
Curiously, the film began with the implicitly Lee and Scarecrow linked assassin with no name-his Nameless status enhanced by the Ennio Morricone evoking strains sometimes heard on the soundtrack composed by Dun Tan, who also composed the soundtrack for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, and played by Li Jet-being transported alone in a horse drawn carriage to an audience with the implicitly Landis and Great Oz linked King of Quin-played Ming Chen Dao. The sight reminded us that the young bride Wo Nainai was carried in a litter to her new life and home in her husband’s village by her implicitly Coppola linked husband and the rest of the celebratory and implicitly American film artist linked peasants at the beginning of RED SORGHUM, linking HERO to the first film of Zhang. After being ushered into the presence of the King of Qin, Nameless then helped the King survive an intricate plot by a twilit trio of assassins to kill him, allowing the King to go on to unite the seven feuding kingdoms of China into one great country as its first Emperor. Thus, Zhang implied his hope that Landis would at last escape the deadly and ghostly hold of Chen, Le and Morrow and the TZ disaster and help unite the feuding film studios by bringing peace and harmony back to our film art and the Temple Theatre. Indeed, the frequency with which the six main characters in the film broke the fourth wall by staring into the camera affirmed the implicit Landis addressing intent of the film, for characters breaking the fourth wall was a famous characteristic of the film art of Landis.
Curiously, the fact that Nameless revealed himself to be the fourth and final assassin but allowed himself to be stoically and imperturbably killed, in the end, by the archers of the King of Qin in a storm of arrows for the good of the unity of China also implicitly summed up the conviction of the people of the Middle Kingdom that the country was more important than the individual, including those Taiwanese individuals who insisted that they were not a part of China in a pointed message to the Taiwanese Lee that Taiwan and himself should give up their independence for the greater good of the People’s Republic. In addition, the revelation that one of the twilit trio of assassins, the implicitly Cowardly Lion linked Broken Sword-played Chiu-Wai Tony Leung-was unable to kill the King of Qin three years before the events of the film began also implicitly linked him to Lucas, for it reminded us that three years before the release of HERO Lucas had not been able to end the dread allegorical Zone wars and kick off a sunlit and TZ diaster free neo eon of CGI enhanced film art with the twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced, Ozian themed and implicitly Cameron and Spielberg roasting indie animaction film STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999). The fact that Broken Sword’s luver and the second assassin, the implicitly Glinda linked Falling Snow-played by Man-Yuk Maggie Cheung-was the daughter of a famous general named Zhao Zhen, evoking and implicitly linking her to Sofia Carmina (SCC) Coppola, the daughter of Francis Coppola and “niece” of Lucas, also affirmed the implicit link of Broken Sword to Lucas.
Of course, the sight of Broken Sword and Falling Snow united in luv and death on top of a butte in a panoramic and sunlit desertscape at the end of HERO reaffirmed the film’s implicit interest in Landis and the twilit and disastrous summer of ’82. For the sight and sound reminded us that Dar and Kiri-played by Marc Singer and Tanya Roberts, respectively-were united in luv and life on top of a butte in another panoramic and sunswept desertscape at the end of the eerily and presciently twilit and allegorical Don Coscarelli indie docufeature film THE BEASTMASTER (1982), a film released in later August of ’82. Last but not least, Zhang also implied that the chess and music luving third assassin, the implicitly Tin Man linked Sky-played by Yen Donnie-was also linked to the chess and music luving Kubrick. Significantly, Zhang implicitly reaffirmed that he was upset with that arch Tiawanese scoundrel, Lee, and the worldwide success of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and its four Oscars-including for Best Foreign Language Film-for he donned the co-writer/director/co-producer hats and teamed up again with Huo Tingxiao-co-production designer of HERO-and Zhang Ziyi-who played the young Zhao Di in THE ROAD HOME, the implicitly Dorothy linked Jen in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and a smaller supporting role as the implicitly Dorothy linked Moon in HERO-and returned to the Temple Theatre with another allegorical and CGI enhanced hung fu docufeature film THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004), released on May 19, 2004.
“Don’t turn a game into reality
and ruin our plans.”
Significantly, the film saw two members of the underground rebel House of Flying Daggers movement, the implicitly Lucas linked Jin and the implicitly Spielberg linked Leo-played by Kaneshiro Takeshi and Lau Andy, respectively-fight each other for the luv of Mei-played by Zhang-as much as they fought together against the imperial Tang Dynasty. As Jin defeated Leo only to have Mei die in his arms, in the end, Zhang implied that the implicit attempt of Lucas to destroy Spielberg in his new STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy would also end in failure when the new trilogy ended the following year with the twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced, Ozian themed and implicitly Cameron and Spielberg roasting indie animaction film STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005). Indeed, the name of Mei affirmed the implicit Lucas addressing intent of HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, for it reminded us that all six of the Lucas directed or executive produced STAR WARS films were released on or around the lucky 25th of May, due to the phenomenal success of the allegorical, CGI enhanced, Ozian themed and implicitly Spielberg roasting Lucas indie docufeature film STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977) after that film was released on May 25, 1977.
Curiously, Zhang then implicitly took a break from the pressure of creating huge and CGI enhanced films by donning the director/co-producer hats to create the small, twilit, allegorical and CGI free docufeature film RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES (2005), released on October 22, 2005 and rated PG “…for mild thematic elements.”
Fittingly, the film saw the implicitly Spielberg linked Japanese fisherman Takata Kuichi-played by Takamura Ken-travel alone for thousands of miles from Japan to Li village in China in the hopes of achieving reconciliation with his dying and never seen and implicitly Lucas linked son Kenichi with the same implacable and indomitable determination of Qui Ju in THE STORY OF QUI JU. Takata hoped to achieve this reconciliation by filming one of his son’s favourite Chinese actors, the implicitly Cameron linked Li Jiang-played by Li Jiang-performing Lord Guan in the Chinese opera RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES. Alas, Kenichi died while Takata was in China, thus preventing reconciliation between father and son. Howevers, as Kuichi managed to forgive and release Kenichi, in the end, Zhang implicitly hoped that Spielberg would also forgie and released Lucas for the implicit roasting he gave Spielberg in the implicit form of Ian McDiarmid’s Senator Palpatine aka Lord Sidious in the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy and Tragic Trilogy. Indeed, it took three attempts before Li finally agreed to perform Lord Guan, evoking the three films in each STAR WARS trilogy and reminding us that it took three lightsaber duels to finally defeat Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader-played by David Prowse and voiced by James E. Jones, respectively-in the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy reaffirming the film’s implicit Lucas addressing and forgiving intent. Curiously, before he left China, Takata also laid the foundations for a possible reconciliation between Li and his son Yang Yang-played by Yang Zhenbo.
That implicit point made, Zhang then went on to bring his Hung Fu Trilogy full triangular circle by donning the director/co-producer hats and reteaming with Song and Tingxiao to implicitly roast Lucas again in the twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced and vibrantly colourful hung fu docufeature film CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2006), released on December 14, 2006.
“What I do not give
you must never take away by Force.”
Indeed, as the film saw a Tang Dynasty Emperor-played by Chow Yun Fat-who resembled and was implicitly linked to the older Lucas destroy a son, Prince Jai-played by Chou Jay-who resembled and was implicitly linked to the younger Lucas, in the end, Zhang implied that Lucas had destroyed himself and the wistful fondness that audiences had for the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy with the recently completed STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy, an implicit summation that most audiences agreed with at the time. All for fortune, glory and the accursed golden Oscar, implicitly symbolized in CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER by the cursed golden flower honoured each year at the Golden Chrysanethemum Festival, an annual festival which was staged with the same red carpet rolling pomp and pageantry as the annual Academy Awards. The film’s many allusions to the STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy and to the films of Kurosawa Akira, an important influence on Lucas, affirmed the implicit Lucas and STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy roasting intent of CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. The fact that Chow had played the legendary and implicitly Lucas and Great Oz linked, and Jedi Master evoking, swordsman Li Mu Bai in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON reaffirmed the implicit Lucas roasting intent of the film.
Alas for Zhang, despite their sound and fury, the Hung Fu Trilogy did not defeat CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON as the three films were unoriginal carbon copies of the Lee film, particularly HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. In fact, the Hung Fu Trilogy came across as Chinese government propaganda pieces desperate to defeat Lee and little Taiwan that Zhang was “persuaded” to create by the government bureaucrats who controlled the film industry in China…if Zhang expected to continue creating film art in the Middle Kingdom, that is. Indeed, soon after the release of CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, Zhang created the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, affirming that he was now seen as an important cog in the national propaganda machine for the People’s Republic of China.
And so Zhang went on to dutifully create such twilit and allegorical docufeature films for his country as THE BRIGHT RED LANTERNS HUNG HIGH (2008), A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (2009), UNDER THE HAWHORN TREE (2010) and THE FLOWERS OF WAR (2011), before donning the director hat and teaming up again with Chen and Song on the twilit, allegorical and CGI free docufeature film COMING HOME (2014), released on May 16, 2014 and inspired by the allegorical Yan Geling docufiction novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi (????).
“That Rightist is a sneaky bastard…
he is the enemy.”
Curiously, the film revolved around a wife suffering from dementia named Lu-played by Song-who was unable to recognize and accept that her implicitly Landis linked husband Yu-played by Chen-was a reformed and trustworthy human being after beind released from decades of imprisonment. As the Chinese city the couple lived in was implicitly linked to Toronto, the implication was that Zhang was sarcastically roasting me and my inability to accept that Landis was reformed or to release the TZ disaster in COMING HOME. Indeed, the subtle suffusion of bussess, clothing and signs with Canadian red and white Maple Leaf flag evoking colour combinations throughout the film affirmed the film’s implicit interest in addressing the film art, artists and “scholars” of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The film’s allusions to the eerily and presciently twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced, Ozian themed and implicitly Lucas addressing Sir Ridley Scott film BLADE RUNNER (1982) also implicitly affirmed the film’s interest in the twilit and disastrous summer of ’82.
Significantly, Zhang implied again that he was addressing the poor ol’ Gardevil when he abandoned the small and intimate style of COMING HOME for the huge and impersonal blockbuster style of the twilit, allegorical and CGI enhanced animaction film THE GREAT WALL (2016), a curious film that was a strange hybrid fusion of the Hung Fu Trilogy and the exuberantly gory, twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced and implicitly Lucas toasting and Lynch roasting Paul Verhoeven animaction film starship troopers (1997).
“You think they see you as some kind of hero?”
Indeed, the sight and sound of William-played by Matt Damon-finding himself in an alternate historic China teaming up with the beautiful, beguiling, faithful and fearless Commander Lin-played by Jing Tian-and the rest of her Chinese military comrades to preserve the vital humanity of film art by battling and defeating hordes of blockbuster CGI beasts called Tao Tei that evoked the hordes of blockbuster CGI bugs that plagued and were desperately fought by the determined and united citizens of Earth in STARSHIP TROOPERS reminded us of Gary William Wright’s equally indie, intrepid, determined and desperate battle against the twilit and CGI enhanced blockbuster beast in his “scholarly” writings, affirming the implicit Gardevil addressing intent of THE GREAT WALL. The presence of Sir Ballard-played by Willem Dafoe-amongst the Good Forces combatting the CGI bug beasts reaffirmed the film’s implicit interest in the GTA and its film art, artists and “scholars”, for his name evoked that of the implicitly Lynch linked James Ballard-played by James Spader-in the twilit, allegorical and implicitly Lynch roasting David Cronenberg indie docufeature film CRASH (1996).
Curiously, given that perseverant William, Commander Lin and company defeated the beastly blockbuster CGI Tao Tei, in the end, also implied that Zhang approved of the determined “scholarly” struggle of Gardevil and the equally desperate battle against the CGI enhanced blockbuster beast of film artists like Cronenberg and hoped that both would one day end in victory. Alas, while a nice implicit nod of support, the film’s strange “bug fu” fusion came across unfortunately as just plain old “bug fou”, leaving audiences wryly amused with THE GREAT WALL. However, while unintentionally amusing, the film did reaffirm that to truly understand the twilit, allegorical film and mostly docufeature film art of Zhang, necessary it was to peer…behind the Great Wall.