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Zhang Yimou returns to Spring Festival box office competition

By Xu Fan | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-01-19 15:48

Director Zhang Yimou (second from left) promotes his latest directorial effort Full River Redwith stars during the Beijing promotional event on Jan 17. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Zhang Yimou, one of China's most prominent and prolific directors, has returned to the fiercely competitive Spring Festival holiday box office with his latest directorial effort, Full River Red.

The movie, named after ancient Chinese military general Yue Fei's most famous poem, will open on Jan 22, the first day of the Year of the Rabbit. The movie marks the second time Zhang has entered the Spring Festival season after last year's critically acclaimed war film Snipers, which he co-directed with his daughter, Zhang Mo, eventually grossing 607 million yuan ($87 million).

With a stellar cast led by comedian megastar Shen Teng and pop idol-turned actor Yi Yangqianxi, the movie, set during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), fictionalizes a twists-studded suspense inspired from the dynasty's most unjust case, which framed Yue, a patriotic and genius military general, and led to his death, due to his high reputation being deemed as a threat to the emperor and his fancied minion Qin Hui.

Despite the inclusion of comedians, this film is a super suspense drama inspired by historical events, mixing various elements from different genres. As Zhang said  during the movie's Beijing premiere earlier this week, he's "always exploring new ways for filmmaking".

Actor Lei Jiayin plays Qin Hui, the top villain in the movie. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The movie takes place four years after Yue's death and revolves around a mysterious murder that takes place at the then most powerful official Qin Hui's residence, where he meets representatives from the enemy — the Jurchen people who ruled the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) — for colluding. One of the Jin envoys dies, and a secret letter is reported missing, while a soldier and a commander get involved in a vast conspiracy. Behind the incident, righteous vigilantes seek to slay Qin. Zhang retells the story based on true historical events to find answers to the legendary unsolved mystery. He co-wrote the script with famous screenwriter Chen Yu.

"It is highly difficult to mix elements from various genres into a suspense movie, thriller, spy film, undercover film, crime film and so on, while keeping the comedy elements. Then, you must not overcook it, and continue creating flipped and unexpected plots, and, in the end, you'll also present the lofty feelings and themes... this is all so difficult," said Zhang.

"But every director wants to do such films where one mixes different styles smoothly. I don't know if I have done well enough, but I hope to explore this new genre," he added.

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