Yellow Earth marked the breakthrough of new Chinese cinema in the 1980s and has remained the signature piece of the Fifth Generation of filmmakers. The film catapulted its director, Chen Kaige (Farewell, My Concubine) and cinematographer, Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern) to international stardom. Rarely screened today, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Yellow Earth‘s release is an opportunity to revisit a modern classic of the Chinese cinema.
Eugene Wang, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University, will introduce the film and discuss its significance before the screening.
Special thanks: Eugene Wang; Zhang Lan, China Film Archive.
Monday April 27 at 7pm
Directed by Chen Kaige.
With Wang Xueyin, Bai Xue, Liu Qiang
China 1984, 35mm, color, 89 min. Chinese with English subtitles
Print from the National Film Center
Set in the vast landscape of the austere and grand loess of northwestern China, Yellow Earth’s story of an army “art worker” in search of rural folksongs provides the framework for the quasi-ethnographic observations and cultural-historical reflections that are the true heart of the film. The use of a stationary camera and natural lighting and the deft orchestration of a limited color palette with the textures of the costumes and rural topography of the loess, animated by hauntingly soulful songs, all combine to suggest that Chen and his collaborators have chosen to deploy elements of classical Chinese aesthetics in the service of a cinematic modernism. In retrospect, the film heralds not only the Fifth Generation but also the new wave of contemporary Chinese art.