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Thoughts on the Opening Ceremonies for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

For a host of idiosyncratic reasons, I’m once again delaying the post on watching my first TVB series in years. Instead, I’m going to share a few thoughts on the opening ceremonies for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. One of these days, I’m going to go back to doing topical posts about the entertainment circle but let me justify this indulgence by saying Zhang Yimou directed the ceremony so it falls within the purview. When I do a post on how I like to hang out at my remote mountain cabin and play my priceless Stradivarius cello for my dog Tet, that’ll be when I’ve completely turned this blog into one of those “what I had for breakfast and what colour shirt I’m wearing” type of blogs.

Actually, you guys have my Dad and my insane devotion to the Confucian idea of filial piety to thank for this post. I got up at 3:45 am on Friday morning so that I could watch CBC’s coverage of the opening ceremonies with the Old Man at 5 am. Since my Dad isn’t much of a fan of Chinese cinema — he regularly confuses Zhang Yimou with Ang Lee — he didn’t get any of my Zhang Yimou wisecracks. As I need an outlet for my referential humour, I’m inflicting my bad Zhang Yimou jokes on all of you.


PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: Given that the Chinese government believes an outstanding showing as the host of the Olympic Games is in the “national interest”, it’s hard to imagine that the opening ceremonies will be anything less than spectacular. After all, eighteen months and a reported US$300 million were spent preparing for the show. With Zhang Yimou in charge, I expect the ceremony to be split into five distinct sections each with its own color-code — corresponding to the colors of the Olympic rings: blue, black, red, yellow and green. I also expect many, many hot women squeezed into impossibly tights outfits that display copious amounts of cleavage. A week before the ceremony, China Daily reported that a cast of thousands held a dress rehearsal at the Bird’s Nest. I suspect, however, that it’s actually a cast of hundreds with the rest filled in by a ridiculous overuse of CGI.


To be honest, I’m surprised that the Chinese government picked Zhang Yimou to run the ceremony because his last film was based on the Chinese idiom “金玉其外, 敗絮其內” or “gold and jade on the outside, rotten and withered on the inside”. A Freudian slip, perhaps, by the powers-that-be in China … I’m just kidding Chinese government censors. Please don’t ban this blog in the Mainland. We kid because we love.

AFTER THE CEREMONY: If one of the Chinese government’s goals for hosting these games is to announce to the world that China is ready to take centre stage in the global community, the goal was achieved … and then some. All that was missing was the unveiling of a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner from the top of the Bird’s Nest. From the opening countdown to the spectacular fireworks display that closed the show, the subtext to the precisely co-ordinated spectacle seemed to be saying: “We have the talent. We have the numbers. We have the will. We have the money. We are going to own the 21st Century.”

This wasn’t the false bravado of some punk kid who just talks the talk but can’t walk the walk, this was a full-on demonstration of something Jet Li’s character said in MY FATHER IS A HERO — a real man doesn’t talk about how he is going to do this or how he is going to do that, a real man just does it. This is precisely what China did on the hot and humid night of August 8th, it showed the World by deeds and actions that it is fully capable of being the dominant global presence or, if you will, “the man” of the 21st Century.

MORE THOUGHTS: Social and political implications aside, the most impressive part of the ceremony was the exact co-ordination of a cast of thousands. I joked earlier about Zhang Yimou’s overuse of CGI in CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER but, given the budget and resources, Zhang was able to actualize his grand vision with real, live people. The opening countdown, the bit with the 2,008 drummers, the movable type segment and the human Bird’s Nest were magnificent displays of timing and a grand payoff for months of meticulous preparation.

Human Bird’s Nest

Segments like the tributes to papermaking and calligraphy showed off the depth of Zhang’s artistry and breadth of his imagination. It almost makes you want to forget that he killed the momentum for Chinese films in the West with HERO and buried it with HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. :-)


- Even before all the controversy with the “Ode to the Motherland” girl surfaced, I found the use of children during the ceremony a little off-putting. Maybe it’s because I’m turning into an old grouch but I always find gratuitous use of kids in ceremonies treacly and a lazy way to manufacture sentiment. It wasn’t just Lin Miaoke that struck me as sappy, it was also the parade of children dressed in various ethnic costumes. I will say, however, that having earthquake survivor Lin Hao lead the Chinese team with Yao Ming was a nice tribute to the earthquake victims and a great way to honour Lin for heroically saving some of his classmates during the earthquake.

- Even if you aren’t a ham sup lo, I think you couldn’t help but notice the ring of girls who cheered and waved throughout the two-hour plus Parade of Nations. According to the Beijing Meteorology Service, the temperature during the ceremony was a sweltering 29°C yet those girls had an unwavering energy level. Considering that the Parade of Nations lasted about as long as it takes to run a marathon, those girls achieved an amazing physical feat. Maybe Zhang Yimou used CGI after all because it’s hard to fathom that those girls were that active for that long without having to drink water or go to the bathroom or do the things that humans need to do.

Parade of Nations

- In the lead up to the lighting of the Olympic flame, the CBC presenters were saying that the organizers were being very secretive about how the Olympic cauldron was going to be lit. One of them even wondered if there was an Olympic cauldron. While Li Ning was doing his “running on the wall”, I turned to my Dad and joked: “At the last minute he’s going to turn away and not light the flame. There’s going to be a big thing about how they’re not going to do an Olympic cauldron this time for the sake of humanity and the environment.”

My Dad didn’t get the joke and looked at me like I was nuts.

Li Ning

- Speaking of the CBC, I’d always heard from my fellow Canadians that it provides better coverage of the Olympics than the Americans get with NBC. I’d never watched an opening ceremonies in its entirety before so I have no basis for comparison but I thought the CBC’s coverage this time around was very poor. It sounded like they were ill-prepared — like they were reading, on-the-fly, information provided to them in a press kit. They also completely ignored Lin Hao when the Chinese team made its entrance. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering who the little kid was walking next to Yao Ming.

- Actually, I thought whoever directed the host feed provided, I believe, by CCTV could have done a better job. I think a bird’s eye view angle from atop the Bird’s Nest was needed to fully capture the grandeur of the ceremony. It wasn’t until I checked out China Daily’s photo gallery of the opening ceremonies that I realized the magnitude of the spectacle. I hope that the official DVD of the ceremonies (available from YesAsia) does a better job of capturing the amazing artistry.

Opening Ceremonies Photo

- If I had another four hours to devote to watching the opening ceremonies, I wouldn’t mind watching TVB’s coverage. It’d be interesting to get the Hong Kong take on the spectacle. I sensed a distinct undercurrent of “yeah, it was great but they’re oppressing Tibet and they’ve got problems with human rights and the environment” in the coverage over here in the West.

- Many are voicing the opinion that this was the best Olympic opening ceremonies ever and that it will be impossible for London to top it in 2012. This sentiment reminded me of when I used to do the “this leading man/leading lady is leaving TVB” stories for my old website. I used to get e-mails saying TVB would never recover from the loss because this star or that star was a huge ratings force. TVB invariably did just fine and many of the stars who left, like Michael To Dai-Yu, eventually returned to TVB. Somehow, as technology progresses and people challenge themselves to rise above the standard set by Beijing, I think there will be an opening ceremony that meets or exceeds the one Zhang Yimou and company organized.

Image credits: Beijing New Picture Film Co. / Edko Film (CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER stills), China Daily (Opening ceremonies photos)

7 Responses to “Thoughts on the Opening Ceremonies for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games”

  1. quadshock Says:

    Well after London I doubt many people will still remember this ceremony other than the Chinese. DURING the London Olympics opening there may be comparisons. But afterward, who cares THAT much? So there is bound to be another “best opening ceremony ever!” in my opinion

  2. Mook Says:

    I’m wondering what you think of China hosting the Olympics in general. Are you for it or against it? I can’t tell because you praise China but make digs at it at the same time. I know you’ve got an opinion because I can tell you follow the news becuase you’ve mentioned Robert Mugabe, McCain and Hillary in past blogs. I think China’s glory from the opening ceremony is diminshed because it’s unseemly begging for approval from the rest of the world. It’s sad that they have to stoop so low as to make a little girl lipsynch for the “national interest”. How strong a nation can you be if the national psyche rests on the shoulders of a little girl?

  3. Joanne Says:

    I heard that the performers at the opening ceremonies wore nappies.

  4. elbombz Says:

    Joanne’s right. The performers wore diapers.

  5. Jo Says:

    What TVB series was it that you watched…? Or is that not to be divulged yet…

  6. Bob Roberts Says:

    There is no WAY the London Olympic ceremony will top the Beijing spectacle!

    At best it might feature, for example:- 289 youths from Hackney pretending to stab each other over a drug dealing dispute gone wrong; a completely unchoreographed display of 344 drunken girls being sick in the street; + (inevitably) some kids lecturing the world about the enviroment, global warming, blah blah.

    Britain has trouble getting a class of school children to attend lessons for a week without playing truant. They would never endure 16 hour rehearsals for 3 months! Zhang Yimou has absolutely nothing to be worried about!! (And I say that as a Brit).

  7. niquole Says:

    Why we never remember the past Olympic opening/closing ceremonies is because it’s not spectacular enough. But China as a debut host country, has set a very high standard for future Olympic hosting nations. I doubt London can beat that in 2012. You’ll know what I mean if you watch the 8 min presentation by the Brits at the closing ceremony. It’s lame, really. David Beckham showcase his ball kicking skill? Come on.

    With a population over 1.3 billion, I don’t think China needs any approval from the world, especially the west and their media. It is ‘them’ who are so afraid of the “Rise of the East Dragon”. Indeed, the Dragon has awoke. Copyright © 2002-2021 Ross Chen