Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jason watches the Olympics opening ceremonies

Not live, since that was like 5 am here. Nor did I watch it when NBC broadcast it, as I was busy with ministerial duties. But the next day, on my Ti-faux (Comcast DVR).

I'd been paying so little attention leading up to the games, I hadn't realized that the opening ceremonies were directed by Zhang Yimou. If I had known, I wouldn't have been surprised by the grand spectacle he put on. This is the guy behind "Hero", "House of the Flying Daggers", and "Curse of the Golden Flower" (and previously, many "smaller" films like "Raise the Red Lantern" or "The Road Home"). In fact, "Curse of the Golden Flower" has the distinction of being the first movie I ever wrote about on this blog. And these ceremonies practically prove the theory I advanced in that review--that while Zhang Yimou has become a master of spectacle, he hasn't become an "American style" filmmaker. He's still very clearly exploring Chinese history, culture, and it's relation to the world--he's just doing it with a healthier dose of spectacle more than with the quiet moments.

As for the spectacle he put on last week--amazing. The drummers, the movable type, the legions of people, the live dance-painting, the taikonauts the people running around the globe (including upside down and sideways). Just, "Wow!" Then the parade of nations, which in comparison is a big, tedious letdown (yeah, I know it's nice for all the athletes, and you can't get rid of it, but after so many "Wow" moments you just can't get excited watching people walk). And then the lighting of the torch, which confirmed another pet theory of mine--that all Chinese people secretly know how to fly. I'm just surprised they revealed that to the world.

On final point, I've heard some commentators remark that the ceremonies were a little intimidating. I was awe-struck, but not intimidated. In full disclosure, I work with a lot of Chinese-American people, including both my boss and my boss's boss (which is why I'm paying more attention to these games than to either of the last two). Chinese are very nice people, and are not to be feared! I sincerely hope that as China rises to equal our economic might, that the U.S. and China will rise together as good friends and allies.

Addendum: I forgot to mention that I wanted to comment a bit on the controversies regarding the "fakery" used in the opening ceremonies.

First, the computer-generated "footprint" fireworks leading up to the stadium. It's my understanding that real fireworks were shot off, and if you were in Beijing that night you would've seen them. However, what I saw on TV was CGI, due to the impossible logistics of filming the fireworks live from a helicopter (and through the Beijing haze). I thought NBC did a half-decent job pointing this out. It was clear to me that what I was seeing was created in advance using CGI (and reasonably good CGI), but some people were not so certain (Bob Costas saying this "is really cinematic" didn't really explain it that well).

Second, the little girl (Lin Miaoke) who sang "I Sing for My Country" when the Chinese flag was brought in and raised. Apparently she was lip-syncing while the voice of seven year old Yang Peiji was played instead (although there's some speculation that Lin was actually singing and didn't know her voice was being replaced). Apparently this was a last minute replacement, as Lin just looked prettier than Yang. I don't really feel cheated by the switch. It's a freakin' show, I expect some things to be faked (guess what, those fairies flying around were actually suspended on wires!) But I do feel bad for Yang Peiji. It must be weird being told you have the perfect singing voice but are too ugly to be seen on TV. For the record, judging by the pictures I've seen, there wouldn't have been anything wrong with showing Yang Peiji. I think this was a mistaken but harmless decision.

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