Filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was for many the lasting memory of China’s very first Games.
In a display of color, coordination and pyrotechnics, the celebrated director dramatically announced the country’s arrival on the world stage, complete with performers “painting” on an LED reel, an ode to China’s space program and 2,008 drummers singing bronze. and play “fou” drums in unison.
Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing on August 8, 2008. Credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
But a lot has changed — in China and the world — since the last time.
First, the strict Covid-19 restrictions have created significant logistical problems. While Zhang was able to call on about 15,000 performers at the opening ceremony in 2008, the cast is only one-fifth of those this year. The show is also expected to be much shorter, from four hours to just over an hour and a half, although this is partly due to the cold weather and safety concerns.
But perhaps more importantly, the way China sees its place in the world has also undergone a profound transformation in the intervening years.
“In 2008, the Olympics was a wonderful stage and an opportunity for our country to show us,” Zhang told Xinhua. “In fact, there are numerous pages in our 5,000-year history that we want to present to the world. Our civilization, our history and how we got to where we are today.
“It’s different now. China’s status in the world, the image of the Chinese and the rise of our national status, everything is completely different now.”
Chinese director Zhang Yimou pictured in Beijing, China in June 2017. Credit: Guo Zongyi/Imagine China/AP
What this means for the themes and design of the ceremonies in 2022 remains to be seen. Details of the proceedings are closely concealed, but Zhang hinted that the kettle lighting could be more spectacular than in 2008, when former gymnast Li Ning circled Bird’s Nest stadium, suspended from tall wires.
“It will be unprecedented in the more than 100-year history of the Olympics,” said Zhang, adding: “I’m very nervous. I think it’s totally innovative and people will be surprised.”
Part of the country’s esteemed “fifth generation” of filmmakers, Zhang is credited with helping bring Chinese cinema to a global audience. Fans of the 71-year-old director’s blockbusters “House of Flying Daggers” and the Academy Award-nominated “Hero” will be delighted with his suggestion that martial arts will once again inspire his stage directing at this year’s ceremonies — this time in their simplicity. .
“Being simple, like in martial arts movies, is like a master’s sword,” he told Xinhua. “All his mind is on the point of the sword, and the strength of his stab is different. It looks like a very simple stab, but with fatal force.”
Top image: Fireworks seen over the National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, during a rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on January 30, 2022.