Yuan Zhang

Active - 1985 - 2013  |   Born - Oct 25, 1963   |   Genres - Drama, Culture & Society

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

A distinguished Chinese filmmaker whose introspective and sometimes existential works have simultaneously set him apart from the mainstream while being selected by Time magazine as one of the world's top 100 young leaders, Zhang Yuan has no aspirations of commercial success and his followers wouldn't have it any other way. A Nanjing native who graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in 1989, Zhang directed a trio of socially conscious dramas and documentaries before completing his higher education, though it wasn't until graduation that his pace truly accelerated. Unafraid to tackle such difficult subjects as homosexuality and disability, it didn't take long for Zhang to earn a reputation as something of a maverick in the realm of Chinese cinema. In 1997, he was arrested by the communist government as a result of his homosexual-themed drama Behind the Forbidden City (1996, aka East Palace, West Palace). The tale of a young, gay Chinese man who becomes attracted to a police officer, the film detailed the persecution of the gay community by police in a telling and compelling manner. Thanks to friends, a print was smuggled out of China for screening at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Frequently alternating between documentary and drama work, the influence of the former can often be seen in the latter due to Zhang's sharp eye for realism and his ability to coax convincing performances from his actors. After detailing the effects of alcoholism on a typical Chinese family in Sons (1996), Zhang turned his lens on motivational speaker Li Yang for the documentary Crazy English (1999). His haunting 1999 film Seventeen Years told the story of a young girl released from prison after serving 17 years for the accidental murder of her step-sister -- a metaphor for Chinese totalitarianism. After 2003's I Love You, a tender tale of love and loss, Zhang remained focused on issues of the heart with the romantic drama Green Tea.

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