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Veteran mainland Chinese director Zhang Yimou is to be honored twice over at the Asian Film Awards ceremony on Sunday. He will be presented with a lifetime achievement award and a separate prize for directing the highest-grossing Asian film of 2023.

“These two awards are not only a testament to Zhang’s extraordinary achievements, but also to his continued success, having won the Asian film contribution award at the 4th AFAs in 2010 and the best director award at the 15th Asian Film Awards in 2021 for ‘One Second’,” AFA organizers said.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have chosen filmmaking as my lifelong profession. Having been in the industry for over four decades, I am grateful to everyone who appreciates my films [..] I will keep learning and strive to surpass myself. Always having anticipations for the future, I hope that my best film will be my next one,” said Zhang in a prepared statement.

Set during the Southern Song Dynasty, and adopting a tone somewhere between mystery and comedy, “Full River Red” recounts how two soldiers are embroiled in a conspiracy after they are tasked with uncovering the murderer of a messenger from a rival dynasty. It released in January last year and headed the Lunar New Year box office in China before being released in other territories including Hong Kong, the U.K., North America, South Korea, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Ticketing agency Maoyan reports that its aggregate worldwide gross was $667 million, making it the leading Asian film last year and the eighth worldwide.

Full River Red
Enlight Pictures

Zhang recently received lifetime honors at the Tokyo International Film Festival (which is a co-organizer of the AFAs) and a box office achievement award at CineAsia in December.

Speaking in Tokyo, Zhang said that in the latter part of his career, he intends to eschew acting, screenwriting or production and to focus only on directing – at the rate of one film per year, until he is no longer able. In fact, since “Full River Red,” two more Zhang films have been released: Shanghai-set “Under the Light” and legal comedy-drama “Article 20.” The latter was released last month and topped the mainland China box office chart in its third week. Its gross to date stands at $320 million.

Having started as a cinematographer, Zhang made his directorial debut with “Red Sorghum,” a powerful story set in a sorghum distillery during the second Sino-Japanese War, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival.

His films from 1988 to 1999 mostly focused on rural lives and included “Ju Dou,” “Raise the Red Lantern,” “The Story of Qiu Ju,” “To Live,” “Not One Less,” and “The Road Home.”

With the beginning of the industrialization of the Chinese film industry in 2000, Zhang turned to big-screen tentpoles and made “Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers” and “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

Since then, his output has varied still further including intimate drama “Under the Hawthorne Tree, English-language actioner “The Great Wall,” Cultural Revolution drama “One Second” and espionage thriller “Cliff Walkers.”

The Asian Film Awards will be held on Sunday at the Xiqu Centre in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District.

Zhang Yimou behind the scenes
Enlight Pictures

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