In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Zhang Yimou

  • Introduction
  • Fifth Generation Filmmakers
  • Interviews with Zhang Yimou
  • Gender in Zhang Yimou’s Films

Cinema and Media Studies Zhang Yimou
Wendy Larson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0362


One of the most famous film and controversial directors in China, Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 (b. 1951– ) has directed over twenty feature films, beginning with the award-winning Red Sorghum (Hong gaoliang 红高粱) in 1987. Following the Cultural Revolution, Zhang, at twenty-seven, was too old to enter the newly reopened Beijing Film Academy, but, after showing admissions officials his photography portfolio, he was allowed to begin his formal studies. He graduated with the class of 1982, known as the Fifth Generation, and started his career as a cinematographer, developing a striking aesthetic style. Zhang worked as the director of photography in Zhang Junzhao’s 张军钊 One and Eight (Yige he bage 一个和八个 1983), a film that broke through the melodrama and socialist realism or revolutionary romanticism of the past. He also worked as cinematographer on Chen Kaige’s 1984 film Yellow Earth (Huang tudi 黄土地), which, after attracting considerable attention in Hong Kong and Japan, was shown in art cinema houses in Europe and the United States and gave notice that a new kind of filmmaking was emerging in China. Zhang’s films have won several prizes and have been nominated for Academy Awards. His early films, including Red Sorghum, Judou (Judou 1990), Raise the Red Lantern (Dahong denglong gaogao gua 大红灯笼高高挂 1991), The Story of Qiuju (Qiuju da guansi 秋菊打官司, 1992), and To Live (Huozhe, 1994), have been noted for their strong female protagonists (all played by Gong Li 巩俐 [b. 1965– ), but also criticized for their stark display of cruel and sometimes unrealistic traditional customs. Zhang’s later work includes Hero (Yingxiong 英雄 2002), which became an international hit while also eliciting criticism for pandering to the authoritarian government. After directing several other films, in 2016, Zhang came out with The Great Wall (Changcheng 长城), which was a Chinese and American co-production. Although Wall received mediocre reviews, martial arts film Shadow (Ying) was widely admired. In 2021, Zhang directed Cliff Walkers (Xuanya zhishang悬崖之上), a historical spy thriller, which was followed by Sniper (Jujishou狙击手), co-directed by Zhang and his daughter Zhang Mo 张末 (1983– ), in 2022. Zhang also directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and he has produced or directed several other short films or live productions.

General Overviews

Zhang Yimou is one of the most widely debated and controversial filmmakers in China; thus, there are several books on his work as well as hundreds of articles in English and Chinese. Several dissertations and master’s theses have been written on Zhang Yimou, with new articles coming out annually.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.