Zhang Yimou writes “scar literature” about cinema in One Second, a film set in the Cultural Revolution

With two Golden Lion awards, one Golden Bear, three nominations for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, and directorship of the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Zhang Yimou hardly seems likely to run afoul of China’s film censorship by the fourth decade of his illustrious career.

Yet One Second, the director’s self-written meditation on the Cultural Revolution, was delayed almost two years after it was scheduled to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in 2019, appearing to Chinese audiences only at the end of November 2020. It was ostensibly removed from the program due to “technical reasons,” but as no details were ever given, there was wide speculation that the film’s sensitive content was to blame.

Zhang Yimou, who experienced the Cultural Revolution himself, tells the story of Zhang Jiusheng, a convict who is sentenced to reform-through-labor. Zhang Jiusheng escapes from his labor camp to watch the screening of the film Heroic Sons and Daughters, as his deceased daughter appears in a one-second shot in a news briefing before the movie.

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He Yingzi is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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