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OCTOBER 23, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 16

Talking 'Bout Their Generations
Continued

A FATHER'S PRIDE
As a father, it is only natural for me to care about my son's growth and career development. But as Zhang Yang started to work on his own films—Spicy Love Soup and Shower—both his mother and I were kept strictly in the dark about the scripts, the shooting and the postproduction work. So our concerns, worries, uneasiness and expectations became even more pressing and complex. What themes had he selected? Would the films appeal to an audience? Would he succeed?

To be honest, I had my doubts. I guess he was reluctant to communicate with me because he was afraid that I might meddle with his work—both as a veteran film director and as his father. Or perhaps because he wanted to prove to me he could work independently. Or maybe it was because of the emotional gap between us.

A famous old actor who had worked with both my son and me once said: "Your masterpiece is Zhang Yang. He can make a film that you can never match." True, the education my generation received and the social environment during my productive years were completely different from those of Zhang Yang's generation. Education for me was mostly propaganda, characterized by heroism and class struggle, with man serving as a symbol of certain ideals. But Zhang Yang's generation has developed out of a great economic boom and a vibrant, modern, stylish and pluralistic urban life. In an atmosphere much less restricted than before, creative artists are now able to explore and interpret life in light of their own experiences, their own feelings, their own understanding—and through their own languages, visual and otherwise. That's how Zhang Yang made his two films.

But to my great surprise, the aesthetics in Shower are traditional, sprinkled with charming touches of Chinese culture and a typical Eastern flavor. Even more pleasantly surprising to me is his ability to blend that with a sense of modernity. The unity of content and form created an unadorned but profound feeling of intimacy. However, I was stricken by the way he handles father-son relations in Shower. Zhang Yang is my only child. Therefore, I have high expectations for him and have always been very strict with him. Perhaps that means I have wronged and hurt him. In his eyes, I must have been a very tough father, which may be why he has seldom tried to communicate with me since he was small. When we have talked to each other, the words have been matter-of-fact. I have often felt an insurmountable barrier between us.

Since Zhang Yang grew up, I have apologized to him on numerous occasions, mostly to no avail. I never expected he would take such a unique approach to portraying the emotional exchanges between a father and son. In Shower, when I saw the old man's unwavering love for his sons Da Ming and Er Ming, when I saw the boys' eventual understanding of their father, when I saw the affection among people in the film, I was deeply touched. I saw traces of Zhang Yang and myself in Da Ming and his father. It was then that I suddenly came to realize that there was no emotional gap between Zhang Yang and me, that his feelings toward me are intrinsic and enduring. As two generations, we are only different in lifestyle and mindset. I think the so-called "generation gap" is only a matter of age. The key lies in mutual understanding and sincerity.

I heard that Zhang Yang has already started on his next film. Although I know nothing more than that, I give him my blessings from the bottom of my heart. For all my worries are really unnecessary.

By Zhang Huaxun

Write to TIME at mail@web.timeasia.com

the arts ALSO IN YOUNG CHINA: THE ARTS
Singing the Blues: Why Chinese rock doesn't rock

Looking Inward: Today's artists are beginning to explore individual rather than collective themes

Riot Grrrls: Mian Mian and Wei Hui face off

Literary Boom: Youth fiction is far more varied than the sex-and-drugs glam-lit that nabs headlines

What's Hot: The fads du jour among urban youth

Father and Son: Two generations of filmmakers reflect on their differences—which turn out to be less than they had feared

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