Review: Bold 2002 takeover of Chinese state TV plays out in hybrid documentary ‘Eternal Spring’
Director Zhang Yimou’s epic (see the trailer) takes on the “tide” that is China’s state propaganda apparatus, and how China’s leaders are portrayed in it, to great effect.
As it comes off the back of the highly successful Academy Award nominated drama, The Great Wall, it is unsurprising that Zhang Yimou is moving into a new space with Eternal Spring. The film is now at the center of a legal dispute between Sony and China’s state education authorities, but it’s easy to see why Zhang was motivated to look at what is seen to be a difficult but necessary battle.
It was a similar situation in the Oscar-nominated Downfall which was embroiled in massive controversy as a result of state censorship (though the studio didn’t think that was the case and downplayed the issue). Zhang’s film looks at state TV more closely than any other film about China’s state TV, which is part of the documentary series that have dominated this year’s Golden Globes (see “The Greatest” below). This may be the first time that a film about state TV has been put together – and taken to such a great extent and in such a high profile venue. It’s not exactly a new format, so does the way that Zhang uses it go against the grain?
Perhaps not, having seen Zhang Yimou’s first film, To Live, in which he was responsible for some of the more controversial scenes, he could be said to have established a taste for the type of films he wanted to make (and with these we can all safely say that he is an authority on his art). Eternal Spring is no ‘To Live’, as the director’s direction is all about telling compelling stories.
There are three stories, but two of them are played out in the first half hour, whereas the third is told over a short sequence (the rest is in narration) at the end. So we are in for an hour-and-a-half where Zhang lays out his case with great confidence that we understand that the documentary is not just a dry series about the state propaganda apparatus.