My Story with Movies
When I was a child in China, going to the
movies was far less common than it is today. There were few
films available for people to watch, and cinemas were often
makeshift structures erected outdoors. Nothing like the
lavish productions and movie hall palaces of today.Despite
the primitive viewing conditions, movies still proved to be
a huge attraction. Word spread fast whenever a show was
about to begin. Entire families had early dinners; they
gathered chairs and hurried in small groups to the venue,
hoping to get a good vantage point. Even before the film
began, the small rituals of family life were set aside for
the excitement of this special occasion.
In the West, most people are familiar with
the ‘ice cream man’, who drove a van playing music through
the streets of city neighborhoods. The sound of the music
was like thread drawn by a needle, bringing together the
rich and the poor for those few minutes of magic. When
children first heard the faint jingle from a long way off,
it was like a clarion call. They ran to their parents and
pleaded for the money to buy a cone. By the time the van
turned the corner and parked, a crowd had already gathered.
Through a sliding screen, you handed over a coin, and a cold
ice cream was placed in your hand. On a hot summer day, you
had a couple of minutes to eat it before it melted. The
entire episode was brief and unforgettably intense. The old
cinema days in China were a long way from ice cream vans in
the city suburbs of the West, but the effect on children was
precisely the same—because no matter where they live in the
world, children possess the same capacity for magic.（译者加注）
With my younger sister in one arm and two
stools in the other, I arrived at an open field.There was a
white screen tied at all four corners to trees or telegraph
poles. Nearby, a projector and a loudspeaker had been set
up. Chairs were placed on the ground as the crowd filled the
open spaces like pixels, forming their own images of delight
and anticipation as they waited for the show to begin.
The projector sprang into life and a sent a
sharp light over our heads in the evening air. The beam
spilled across the screen and formed into shapes of actors
and distant landscapes. For me, the legends of heroes, the
romance of love stories, and colorful news stories were as
if woven into that beam. The endless delight of a magic
quilt unfolding before my eyes.The shadows on the screen
danced with the light across the faces of the crowd. We too
were a screen, and on our minds, the future was forming its
shapes as each of us thought about how the stories of our
own lives would be written.What would we become, and where
would we go?
Magic has been part of film from the very
beginning.In 1838, the first ever photograph of a human was
taken by Louie Daguerre of a boulevard in Paris. The
photograph required ten minutes of exposure time: even
though the street was busy, only one person appears on the
photo—a man standing still while getting his shoes polished.
Because everyone else was moving about, they literally
disappeared. In 1888, the French inventor Louis le Prince
filmed a short black-and-white movie of his wife’s family
dancing in a garden. These moving photographs appeared at
twelve frames per second, too fast for the human eye to
separate. It is the world’s first movie. Soon the film of an
oncoming train caused people to jump aside in terror when
shown in small theaters on Paris Boulevards.
The magic of moving pictures was more
powerful than whatever circumstances I might find myself in,
and I was transported to a world of childhood heroes, a
special place of the imagination where poverty or wealth
were no longer a determining factor in happiness. On the
silver screen, heroes did what heroes were supposed to do.
And in the end, even after many setbacks, justice prevailed.
In Heroic Sons and Daughters, The Eternal
Wave and The Sparkling Red Star, I watched courageous people
selflessly pursue justice. The actor Ken Takakura, in The
Call of the Remote Mountains, became an ideal prince
charming for many girls in their first stirrings of romantic
love: he was introspective, he had experienced the ups and
downs of life, and his natural charisma commanded love and
respect. What deeply impressed me as a child was a scene in
which a soldier, Wang Cheng, stands calm as a tree and
shouts, ‘Fire at me!’ before going bravely to his death in a
hail of gunfire. He sacrifices his life for a cause—and with
passion burning in his eyes. That passage has given me the
courage to overcome many difficulties in my life since
History, culture, emotion, and
experience--all live within the wonderful world of images.
The charm and power of film awakens the perception, it
enlivens our sense of beauty and establishes an enduring
atmosphere that intoxicates viewers long after the show has
ended. Movies can change the world for the better. They can
shape the personalities and hearts of countless millions.
And yes, they can cultivate in the hearts of the young a
sense of personal dignity.
I used to love movies so much. They had
everything I longed for: heroism, integrity, kindness,
simplicity, purity, selflessness, and beauty. The screen
brought those images and stories and characters into my
life. I laughed and cried with every adventure. I dreamed a
romantic dream that lay dormant in my heart.
After decades of economic reforms, material
life has improved dramatically in China. Yet the movies have
strayed from the storytelling art. Instead, they showcase
greed, eroticism, violence, and horror for their own
sake. No amount of head-spinning special effects can
camouflage an emptiness of substance. What was once an
unbreakable bond in my life—the love of film—became
strained. A luxurious cinema cannot deliver the simple power
of faraway adventures played on those screens and projectors
in the open fields. Technology is not storytelling.
Storytelling is not technology.
As a general rule, movies embody the spirit
and culture of a country. And so, in recent decades, Chinese
film has indeed passively reflected the lost hearts of
people entirely transfixed by opulence at the expense of
spirit. However, the situation seems to be improving.
Productions such as Youth, Forever Young, Dying to Survive
and Wolf Warriors have re-ignited in me those childhood
feelings. These are films lit with a love of country and the
spirit of kindness, which we should not let slip away no
matter how far we progress in economic terms. Once gone,
these qualities are difficult to regain. As humans living in
a fragile world, we can all too easily lose our connection
with what’s important in life.
Chinese filmmakers are now more attentive to
traditional culture, which is an inexhaustible source of
material, and this gives me hope for the Chinese film
industry. What’s national is international: the artistic
expression in Chinese film has the potential to reflect the
natural wisdom and beauty in Chinese culture.
The fact is that filmmaking has become an
integral part of my company. The question remains—how do we
create movies that promote the culture of our ancestors and
the Chinese experience? How do we depict the concept that
President Xi Jinping has put forward: ‘One world community
with a shared future for mankind’? How do we portray the
happiness and sorrow of the Chinese people today in films
that will influence the next generation and endear them to
their Chinese roots? I look forward to walking with more
like-minded partners on the same path.
As China becomes stronger and richer,
filmmakers have woken to the possibilities in the Chinese
movie market. Not only will this new awareness change the
global landscape of the film industry, it will increase the
influence of Chinese culture on a global stage. What kind of
storytelling legends are we able to create in film? These
new challenges have just begun.
The magic in a great story cannot be
measured. Its power to change lives is best viewed over a
lifetime; in my case, from the first experiences as in the
child, to the lasting proof in the woman.What I received was
so much more lasting than the temporary pleasure of ice
cream. From movies I experienced the taste of inspiration
and hope, I learned the importance of dreams, and saw how
justice and virtue come to those who strive for them. I have
never forgotten the images of my childhood and the simple
places where I first encountered the glory of cinema.