BEIJING - Zhang Yimou, one of the country's most lauded filmmakers, will be going for gold again at this year's Oscars with his latest release, The Flowers of War.
The movie, which is about Nanjing during the Japanese invasion in the 1930s and features Hollywood star Christian Bale, has been chosen as China's entry for the Academy Awards' best foreign language film category.
The movie has been running at Beijing's Capital Cinema since Friday as part of a seven-day preview. The early release is to meet entry standards for the Oscars, which requires films to be shown in domestic theaters for at least a week, said Ping Xue, promotions manager at Beijing New Pictures, which previously collaborated with Zhang on hits Hero and Under the Hawthorn Tree.
Despite little promotion and the tickets costing 200 yuan ($30), double the normal price, screens sold out within 40 minutes of the box office opening on the first day, according to Yu Chao, general manager of Capital Cinema.
He said many people had not heard about the showings. Those who came either saw the information in Beijing Times, the only newspaper to carry the show times, or happened to notice the film was on when they bought tickets to other movies.
"We wanted to keep promotion low key for fear of piracy before the official release," said Yu. "The showings are in a VIP screening room that seats only 22 people."
Based on a novel by Chinese-American author Yan Geling, The Flowers of War tells the story of Chinese sex workers in Nanjing in 1937 who offer to replace college students as the escorts of Japanese soldiers. Bale, the British star of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, appears as a priest.
The movie will officially be released on Dec 16 and will represent Zhang's fifth attempt at an Academy Award, following defeats with Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, among others.
Beijing film critic Bi Chenggong said he is looking forward to the movie, but added that he feels Zhang would stand a better chance of winning a coveted gold statuette in a category like best cinematography.
"Judges for the best foreign language film don't really have a craving for blockbusters, and The Flowers of War, which centers on the Nanjing Massacre, may not cater to their tastes," he said.
Bi explained that if Zhang shows his movie in the United States, he would be able to compete with about 30 films for 110 nominations, rather than fight for five nominations with about 70 movies for best foreign language film.
"Unquestionably, the graphic display in Zhang's film puts him ahead in competing for nominations in cinematography or best picture," he added. "For a 1,500m freestyle swimmer, it's a challenge to compete in a 200m breast-stroke. We'll see."