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Yimou Talks Challenges of Finishing "Cliff Walkers" During Pandemic


Renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou is known for his style and depth that he brings to every film he takes the helm of. Not to mention, the beautiful cinematography and visuals he has offered to international audiences in such films as Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Shadow. Though, in directing his newest film Cliff Walkers (See the trailer here), Yimou found the challenge of trying to finish his ambitious story in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Especially given the intensity of the story which focuses four Communist party special agents in the 1930's who return to China's snowy northeast (Known then as the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo) after receiving special training in the Soviet Union. Immediately following their parachuting entrance, they find themselves sold out by a traitor and find their lives on the line. To pull this off, Yimou actually filmed in the real location of Manchukuo (which is now known as Manchuria).

The cast and crew were already filming in the cold winter of the region when the initial lockdown occurred in early 2020 though the cast ultimately remained in a local hotel for 50 days before simply returning to filming. Yimou wasn't bothered by the situation, but more focused on getting the cast back in the right mental state, as quoted in a recent interview with Variety:

“The actors’ mental and performance states are the most important thing. I’m not talking about physical changes, but rather getting back into the characters’ state of mind. There shouldn’t be an inkling of difference in their expressions even with 50 days apart.”

His other complaint was the weather changing and warming up during the break which made it hard continuity-wise in filming:

“An extended pause like this would have a major impact on any production, especially on the continuity of the story and the actors’ condition. What’s worse was that the weather warmed up, and the snow stopped, messing up everything we’d already done. I can’t list all the challenges one by one, but I can say that we’re fortunate to have overcome this challenge.”

Whether the film is a hit like his other noted projects or is a box office success (It opening today in China and was second place at the box office with $3.31 million by 4pm), Yimou is just happy to have completed the project and reiterating his love and passion for filmmaking:

“The process of making a film is one of overcoming challenges, making compromises and a process of persistence. That’s what keeping you going, and (makes) you satisfied even if you only end up getting 1% or even 0.1% of what you set out to achieve.”

The film will also make it's debut this weekend in North America, New Zealand, and Singapore. It is being noted by Variety as one of the first major Chinese pictures to take advantage of the improving theatrical conditions in the U.S. since pandemic began, putting a halt on movie distribution and exhibition industries. Hopefully, international fans of Yimou will get to enjoy his latest tale. Stay tuned!

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