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The Venice International Film Festival will present veteran Chinese director Zhang Yimou with this year’s lifetime achievement award, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory prize.
Zhang, a regular at Venice, is a two-time winner of the festival’s Golden Lion award for best film. He received it for The Story of Qiu Ju in 1992 and Not One Less in 1999.
He will present his latest movie, the martial arts period drama Ying (Shadow), in an out-of-competition slot at the Venice festival. Zhang will receive his award in the Italian city on Sept. 6, just before the film’s world premiere.
Arguably the best known and most influential of the so-called Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, Zhang made his debut with Red Sorghum in 1987. The literary adaptation of a novel by Mo Yan won Berlin’s Golden Bear in 1988, becoming the first Chinese film to take a top prize at an international A-list festival. It also introduced the world to actress Gong Li, Zhang’s longtime muse.
Zhang’s 1990 drama Ju dou, also starring Gong Li, was the first Chinese film to be nominated for a best foreign-language Oscar. His follow-up, Raise the Red Lantern, which premiered in Venice (where it won the Silver Lion), was also nominated for an Oscar.
Zhang returned to the Lido in 1992 with The Story of Qiu Ju, which won the Golden Lion and earned Gong Li the Coppa Volpi for best actress. The fifth cooperation between actress and director, To Live (1994), won the special jury prize in Cannes.
In the mid-1990s, having established himself as an internationally-recognized art house director, Zhang shifted towards genre cinema, anticipating a more mainstream approach by a new generation of Chinese filmmakers. His first effort in this vein, the gangster film Shanghai Triad, won the technical grand prize in Cannes. He has also seen success with so-called wuxia, or period martial arts films, including 2002’s Hero, which was Oscar nominated, and House of Flying Daggers (2004).
The 66-year-old filmmaker now moves easily between art house and the mainstream, with award-winning dramas such as Not One Less, The Road Home and Happy Times sitting alongside Chinese blockbusters, including The Curse of the Golden Flower, an epic tragedy set during China’s Tang dynasty, which saw Zhang re-team with Gong Li (and pick up yet another Oscar nomination); or The Great Wall, his English-language debut, starring Matt Damon, which performed below expectations but still grossed upwards of $330 million worldwide.
“Zhang Yimou is not only one of the most important directors in contemporary cinema, but with his eclectic production, he has represented the evolution of global language of film, and at the same time, the exceptional growth of Chinese cinema,” said Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera. “Zhang Yimou has been a pioneer thanks to his capacity to translate authors, stories and the richness of Chinese culture in general into a unique and unmistakable visual style.”
The 75th Venice Film Festival runs Aug. 29-Sept. 8.
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