Chinese Olympics get the Spielberg treatment

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The Independent Online

And to hammer home the message that the country's first Olympic Games are a vital showcase for the booming new China, the man leading the project will be the top Chinese film director Zhang Yimou.

"I am very honoured to be named the chief director of the ceremonies. It is a huge task ... but I promise that I will fulfil the task successfully," said Zhang, 54, who is best known abroad for martial arts epics such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers, as well as arthouse classics such as Raise the Red Lantern and Red Sorghum.

The organising committee for the 2008 Olympics is making sure the details stay under wraps until the Games start on 8 August 2008, but if Zhang's previous stagings of operatic battle scenes and elaborate ancient rituals are anything to go by, the ceremony will be on a monster scale. Observers can also expect to see a lot of red, China's national colour.

"It will not be my independent creation, as it's so important that it cannot be left to my own taste. I'll incorporate the entire group of experts and advice. We are in urgent need of sound advice from foreigners," Zhang said in deference to Spielberg.

Spielberg was one of the first Westerners to shoot a movie in China when he made Empire of the Sun in 1987 and said he was honoured to be chosen. "All of us are dedicated to making these Olympic opening and closing ceremonies the most emotional anyone has ever seen," said the director, whose most recent film Munich was based on the events following the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Spielberg will serve as an artistic consultant along with Australian Ric Birch, who directed the Sydney Games' ceremonies.

The opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics will prove a hard act to follow. A three-hour journey through Greek civilisation, featuring Bjork in a very big dress, the ceremony went down a storm with viewers all over the world. But China is no slouch when it comes to staging grand events.

In 1999, for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the People's Republic of China, 100,000 schoolchildren packed into Tiananmen Square and formed two huge yellow characters spelling out "National Day".

The Olympic Games have an operating budget of around $2bn (£1.1bn) and construction of the large venues for the Olympics is under way, with huge swaths of the city giving way for a massive redevelopment programme timed to coincide with the competition. Organisers received 409 proposals for the opening and closing ceremonies since they opened tendering last March. These were shortlisted to five.

Once Zhang finishes his current project, tentatively titled Wearing Golden Armour Across the City, which is due to be released at the end of this year, he will not do any other movies until after the Olympics so he can concentrate on the ceremony. Liu Qi, the president of the committee, said the opening ceremony was central to the success of the Games. "The 1.3 billion Chinese people are full of aspirations for the Olympic Games, and they have very high expectations for the opening ceremony," he said.

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