FILM / Director's Cut: Anthony Minghella on the fairy-tale simplicity of Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum

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The Independent Culture
'THIS STORY IS about my grandparents . . . It's still spoken of in these parts, even though it happened a long time ago. Some people believe it, some people don't' This beguiling voice-over heralds the first scene of Red Sorghum. In it, Gong Li is taken by sedan to a remote Sorghum winery, where, against her will, she is to marry its elderly and leprous owner.

Part of the tradition is to jostle the bride, so the eight or 10 sedan-carriers shake the chair, quickly abandoning the solemn wedding music for a raucous, taunting song about the realities of marriage. Red cloth flares in a vast mountainous landscape as they kick up blonde puffs of dust. The song is wild and piercingly loud, and the shots powerful, the camera swinging in among the heaving shoulders. Meanwhile, the bride is crying, and they pull back the curtain to look inside as she tries to recompose her features.

It's the most extraordinary scene, with amazing colour control and graphic composition, with lots of clean lines. The director does something I never quite manage: he uses music and song fantastically well - the whole scene is this great feast of colour, sound and raucousness.

It keeps cutting from the inside of the litter to the guys outside, one of whom will end up marrying Gong Li. In this way, the grandfather - mentioned in the opening voice- over - makes contact with the grandmother. It conveys a great deal about this nascent relationship without any exchange whatsoever. Everything is carried by the play of silence and furious noise, violent movement and tiny gestures. In the first five minutes of his first film, Zhang Yimou announces himself. Brilliant]

It's like a fairy-tale. There's a classical simplicity to it which enables you to examine other things, with the audience secure in the territory of the story. I suppose that's also why I chose to do Mr Wonderful. It's a tale you can tell in a second, and so it gives you a frame from which to depart.

Chinese cinema is manifestly the most exciting area of film-making around at the moment. Anybody interested in film is going to be inspired by this new generation of directors. And what they indicate to people like me is that you can make extremely cinematic stories using the apparatus of the domestic tale, the love story.

Anthony Minghella's first film was 'Truly, Madly, Deeply'. His second, 'Mr Wonderful', has just been released on video.

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