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Zhang Yimou Releases New Film to “Battle” with Hollywood

Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou

Film Director Battles For Soul of Chinese Cinema” is the provocative title of an NPR report on Zhang Yimou’s new release A Simple Noodle Story (Sanqiang Pai’an Jingqi). Compared with the director’s early national allegories (Raise the Red Lantern; To Live) which made his name as an international arthouse auteur, the new comedy-murder movie is distinctly apolitical.

A radical remake of the Coen brothers’ 1984 neo-noir Blood Simple, Zhang’s latest work transplants the action from a Texas bar to a remote noodle shop in ancient China, and adds on to the crime thriller “a slapstick comedy with song-and-dance numbers revolving around noodle-making.” In an interview with NPR, Zhang does not deny the “commercial factors” behind his new experiment: he intends to make a “New Year film” (the Chinese equivalent of an American holiday season film) and to change his focus from the international to the domestic market.

Zhang is equally straightforward about his ambition behind the commercial turn, which the article dubs as his “battle with Hollywood for the soul of Chinese cinema.” According to the director:

Young people are the key. If they lose their interest in domestic movies, we will be in big trouble. The China’s film market will be occupied by foreigners. Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea are examples of this. The mainland is our last battlefield.

Behind this patriotism, the article also notes the director’s changed stature in China’s national imagination. The hugely popular successes in the spectacular Olympic opening ceremony in 2008 and the military parade marking China’s 60th anniversary in 2009 made him a national cultural hero, but also raised doubts “overseas” about whether Zhang had became Beijing’s “artist in residence.”

Zhang denies losing independence, arguing that censorship limits all Chinese directors equally, but his latest film has been panned after its premiere in China on Dec. 11. Half of those answering one online survey at a popular website,, thought it was “terrible” or “worse than expected.” For China’s arguably most famous director, the leap between the political and the commercial, or the merging of the two, is not an easy one.


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