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January 31, 2018

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Iconic director who blazed a trail in celluloid

AMONG the film legends honored in the Shanghai Film Museum is director Xie Jin (1923-2008), who shot to fame in 1957 with “Woman Basketball Player No. 5,” the first Chinese film set in the world of sports.

The film tells the story of two long-separated lovers who are reunited by their passion for basketball.

Xie is perhaps best known by the public for his 1997 epic film “Opium War” and for the widely popular “Hibiscus Town,” which centers on ordinary people struggling to survive during political upheaval. Leading actor Jiang Wen, who was far less well-known back then, shot to stardom after the film was released in 1986.

Xie is considered part of the third generation of movie directors in China. The Zhejiang Province native dedicated his whole life to filmmaking, notching up 20 films in his five-decade career.

His movies were generally characterized by a deep social conscience and a sense of historical context. His 1989 film “The Last Aristocrats” follows the lives of four Chinese girls, daughters of Shanghai’s elite, who went to the US to study in 1948 and faced difficulties trying to return home a year later.

Six of his films won Best Picture in the Hundred Flowers Awards, China’s version of Oscars, and he was the only Chinese mainland director to be a member of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America.

The Shanghai Film Museum has devoted a special exhibition hall to commemorate Xie. It displays dozens of personal items, trophies, medals, letters and diaries. The portrait they paint is one of a distinguished director, a loving husband and father and a man of integrity.

The exhibits include a bottle of Hennessy cognac given to Xie by the president of the French distiller in 1993 and an old-fashioned clock awarded to him after he won the May 1 Labor Medal of Shanghai in 1981. Other items include eyeglasses, seals, clothing and the old handwritten marriage certificate of Xie and his wife Xu Dawen.


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