(1987)4Michael CostelloThe first Chinese film to receive a commercial release in the U.S., and the winner of the prestigious Golden Bear at the 1988 Berlin Film Festival, Zhang Yimou's fable of Chinese life during the '20s and '30s, with it's plenary abundance of astonishingly sensual images, immediately established him as one of the world's most gifted directors. Yimou's saga covers his grandmother's life, from her arranged marriage as a young girl, to the bloody invasion of the Japanese and WWII. Formerly a cinematographer, the director makes excellent use of the Technicolor processing long abandoned by Hollywood, to achieve the kind of deep, rich, subtle colors available only through the patented technique of imbibition dyeing. The storytelling is primitive, almost naïve, as it relates the story of Nine (Gong Li), her dramatic meeting with future husband Yu (Jiang Weng), and her heroic efforts to maintain the sorghum winery left by her deceased husband. Although Yimou was a member of the so-called "Fifth Generation," whose work was free of the restraints mandated by the Cultural Revolution, the early part of the film could easily be read as a hymn to the virtues of collective labor. With the brutal invasion of the Japanese in the 1930s, the film's idyllic tone shifts into one of a realism capable of accommodating scenes of shocking mutilation. Gong Li is revealed as a major talent in her film debut, but it's Yimou's spellbinding visual poetry which will long preserve the director's family epic.