One is the best known Chinese film director, and the other
is the most famous Chinese actress. They were best business
partners, together having produced unforgettable classics
like Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Qiuju and To
Live. This fact is known by many people in the world.
They were also great lovers. She waited for the day to marry
him, and waited for nine years. He waited for the right moment
to ask her to marry him, and waited for nine years. This
fact is known by many people in China.
When they were young and rest-ful on the
they made a wish:
One shall be the empress and the other the empress-maker
When they went to the Great Wall to make prayer, Zhang Yimou
(张艺谋) was 42, and Gong Li (巩俐) 27. Zhang prayed for seeing
Gong playing Wu Zetian, the only woman emperor in Chinese
history; and Gong prayed for being able to play the woman
emperor in Zhang’s film.
Later that year Gong Li became queen when she won the title
of the best actress of the year in Venice film festival for
her role in Qiuju, and Zhang, the queen-maker, won
Gold Lion for Best Film.
Three years later, they parted, in film and in life – a
fairytale did not eventuate.
Zhang Yimou has never made a film about Wu Zetian, and Gong
Li has never played the woman emperor.
But Gong Li has already been a queen of the Silver Screen,
and her fans are all over the world. And she needs to wait
no more – a marriage proposal from another man was gracefully
So Zhang, alone, went on searching and making the replica
of Gong Li. Years later, another Silver Queen loomed larger
than life on the screen, that is Zhang
It seemed the story about the lives of Zhang and Gong together
on and off screen had reached the finale.
Then one day in 2006, 11 years after the parting, a sequel
bluntly emerged. They once again teamed up in Zhang’s new
film The City of Golden Armour (《满城尽带黄金甲》), and
this time Gong Li plays the empress.
The pair’s prayer on the Great Wall has been fulfilled,
to a degree.
Gong Li as the empress and Chow Yun-Fat
as the emperor
and they are all in golden coloured costume, a colour became
the symbol of royalty after the third
Ming emperor, several thousand years later
But, on the other hand, the man of queen-making on screen
is still a queen-lacking off screen. Zhang Yimou is yet to
find a right moment to make a proposal to a woman.
Then, which woman? After Gong Li is there still a woman
out there somewhere on the planet? In the eye of Zhang Yimou?
If a typical romance of the West is like a stir-fry,
making all the audio and visual spectacles amid the burning
heat, then a typical Chinese romance is like a pot of stew,
quietly and slowly shimmering over a small fire. It doesn’t
have much to see on the surface, but has a lot of bubbling
inside the pot - which is a passion that could touch the
very deep corner in the heart.
Zhang Yimou, a native of Xi’an, the ancient capital of Tang
Dynasty, is in a way an old fashioned Chinese man. He may
keep shimmering his stew and never lift open the lid.