Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia (Curse of the Golden Flower, Zhang Yimou, 2006)
I'm not sure if we can call Zhang Yimou a great filmmaker, but in the '80s and '90s he was certainly a force to be reckoned with. For director Chen Kaige he shot "Huang tu di" (Yellow Earth, 1984), a film that announced to the world the presence of the "Fifth Generation" of mainland Chinese filmmakers; three years later, with "Hong gao liang" (Red Sorghum), "Ju Dou" (1990), and "Da hong deng long gao gao gua" (Raise the Red Lantern, 1991) Zhang helped establish the house style of the Fifth Generation--at once old-fashioned in its embrace of melodrama ("Ju Dou" owes a plot twist or two to "The Postman Always Rings Twice") yet new in its utter lack of cynicism (the unabashedly romantic flavor of "Hong gao liang's" love scene); voluptuous in its use of colors, shapes, textures (the dyed cloth in "Ju Dou" filling the screen with ribbons of fluttering scarlet, purple, gold) yet somehow austere in intent and ultimate impact (repeated shots of the compound's imposing rectangular floor plan in "Da hong deng" emphasizing the heroine's imprisonment). The 1999 "Yi ge dou bu neng shao" (Not One Less) subordinated that gorgeous visual style to the story of a young teacher struggling to keep her class of poor student peasants together. The result, I thought, was a film more persuasively moving (thanks to its countryside grit and simplicity) than any of his earlier efforts.
He's struggled ever since, sometimes in interesting ways: "Wo de fu qin mu qin" (The Road Home, 1999) is a romance told in flashbacks, as the lovers' son arrives from the big city to bury his just-died father (I liked it well enough, save that the mother seemed a tad too self-indulgent); "Xingfu shiguang" (Happy Times, 2001) felt like a reworking of Charlie Chaplin's "City Life" (blind girl given the illusion of a better life by an equally poor benefactor) and suffers in comparison (you also couldn't help but feel sexually predatory overtones--all these middle-aged men, surrounding a helpless blind girl--in what Zhang strenuously tries to present as an innocuous situation).