Zhang Yimou belongs to the so-called Fifth Generation group - the first class of Chinese filmmakers to graduate from the Beijing Film Academy after the tumultuous Cultural Revolution years, bringing new vitality and honesty to a national cinema bent to propaganda purposes during Mao Zedong's rule.
Even among this group, Zhang stands out for his energy and versatility. He began his career as a cinematographer, filming ''Yellow Earth'' and ''The Big Parade,'' both directed by Chen Kaige, one of his colleagues. His performance in ''Old Well,'' directed by Wu Tianming, also made him an award-winning actor.
Zhang's directorial debut was ''Red Sorghum,'' a 1987 drama that begins as a colorful family saga but transforms into a grim exploration of wartime violence. It won a top prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Subsequent films include the powerful ''Ju Dou,'' the elegant ''Raise the Red Lantern,'' the charming ''Story of Qiu Ju,'' and the epic ''To Live.''