Zhang Yimou is probably the most-watched, worldwide, Chinese director as he orchestrated the opening ceremony at last year’s Beijing Olympics. He’s also had some ‘cross-over’ success with Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). Red Sorghum was his first film as a director and the visuals are stunning, though the stylisation, in the two later films, is primarily evident only at the end of the film.
As David Neo’s useful article says, Red Sorghum was a rare box office success in China for the 5th Generation of filmmakers. No doubt the Nationalism of the film appealed greatly: it deals, in part, with the Japanese occupation. The film was also Gong Li’s first film and it has to be admitted much of the visual pleasure exists in the many, long-take, close-ups of her face.
Most extraordinary, however, is the field of sorghum; large, recalcitrant, grass. As Gong’s suitor (the characters are nameless) chases her through the field, the tracking shots are like a fast moving Impressionist painting: Zhang’s a master of cinema.