A colorful scene from A Simple Noodle Story.
Related Reading: Noodling on a cinematic theme
Zhang Yimou's stiff and strong demeanor has caused him to be compared with the Terracotta Warriors, from his hometown of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.
In an interview with China Daily, however, China's most famous director is highly animated and laughs a lot when talking about his habit of watching TV dramas at 2 or 3 am, and how that helped him cast parts for his latest film, A Simple Noodle Story.
The graduate of Beijing Film Academy's cinematography department is a technology enthusiast and used the latest digital high definition camera system for the film.
He enjoys fashion shows and says they "break the existing rules". He surfs on the Internet a lot, which explains his use of the trendiest Internet slang.
When he's called "pillar of the industry" or "leader of Chinese cinema", he quickly responds: "Altar is only in your imagination, I was never on that."
After the huge pressure and glory of producing the Beijing Olympics' Opening Ceremony what he wants most now is to be an ordinary director and make a comedy. How many times the audience laughs over the 100 minutes it plays for is his only criterion for success.
Zhang talks further about the film and his post-Olympic life before the film's premiere nationwide.
Q: Why did you choose Blood Simple over other Coen brother's works?
A: I like all the Coen brothers' works. I saw Blood Simple in 1984 or '85, without Chinese subtitles, but I understood it well.
What interests me most in Blood Simple is a person's powerlessness and absurdity before fate.
Coen films have a consistency in terms of the unrelenting tone and feeling of alienation. I gave up on that and added my own color and a slapstick feel.
Q: The colors in Noodle are impressive, opposite to the cold and depressing tones in Blood Simple. Why?
A: I have always liked ravishing and eye-catching colors. It is my preference.
In my previous Chinese costume dramas, you will find that bright and beautiful colors belong to only kings and nobles, while ordinary people wear what we call "rat's gray".
In this film I dressed the characters - all ordinary types - in lavish red and green.
I see many fashion shows, and I know mix-and-match is the trend. Fashion is about breaking the existing rules. So why can't we mix-and-match and break the rules, too?
I think the Coen brothers will think it is funny to see their film so changed. If a foreign director wanted to remake one of my films, say, Red Sorghum, I'd like to see it as different from the original as possible.
Q: You cast many er'renzhuan actors. Why? (Er'renzhuan is a type of folk performance from Northeast China which combines boisterous singing, dancing and stand-up comedy.)
A: The casting is what I feel the proudest of in this film. They (the actors) all have really unique skills, after years of stage experience. On the stage you have to make the audience laugh the moment you stand on it, and keep them laughing every two to five minutes. I think that makes them really able actors.
Q: Are you worried about comparisons between the two films?
A: Some will think it's better than the original work, and some won't, definitely, but that's not important. The fact that I dared make it this way is the most fun part. No one could have imagined a remake of Blood Simple would be like this.
Q: Some might say directing slapstick is unimaginable for someone who enjoys the prestige you have.
A: I stepped into hell when I decided to make the film a slapstick version. It was clear to me that when you make a comedy, one third of the jokes will be considered vulgar.
It is like when you raise a herd of horses. You try your best to make them all winged steeds, but it always turns out that only a few of them will make it.
I am fully prepared to be criticized because I know it is hard, even impossible, to make a perfect comedy, in which all the jokes are appropriate and are flawlessly woven into the storyline.
If you want laughter from the audience - which is harder than eliciting tears sometimes - you have to be prepared for criticism.
If the audience laughs 20 times when it watches the film, I will consider it a success.
Q: Any ambition for the overseas market this time?
A: This film is totally for the domestic market. Comedy is so local, especially with the dialogue. I am not at all confident this film will appeal to international audiences. The mainland market is the target. Even Hong Kong and Taiwan audiences may not find the film amusing.
The rise of the mainland market has made Chinese directors change their focus. Today a Chinese film can make 10 times the money it makes overseas.
Ten or 15 years ago my films relied heavily on the international market, but it is totally different now. Five years from now, or maybe less, a Chinese movie might make $100 million at the local box office. I am not exaggerating.