Filmmaker Zhang Yimou in recent years has moved away from making art house films to producing large-scale government-backed projects, including the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony. One such project has been under scrutiny lately as it may involve a corrupt transaction with the Railway Ministry, which has been a target of public wrath after a deadly high-speed train crash last year. In 2010, Zhang was hired by the Ministry to produce a five minute promotional video about China’s trains. It has recently come to light that the Ministry budgeted 18.5 million yuan, or $2.9 million for the project. Zhang has denied receiving more than 2.5 million yuan for his work, leaving it unclear what happened to the bulk of the payment. Investigators are looking into the deal. From Bloomberg:
After a public outcry over the 18.5 million yuan ($2.9 million) the ministry paid in 2010 for the five-minute video, Zhang told state-run Xinhua TV he got an after-tax payment of 2.5 million yuan for the film, which showcases trains and railways across China. He provided advice and ideas and didn’t know how the rest of the money was spent, he said.
“If the government decides to take further action against the misuse of money, I will cooperate fully,” said Zhang, who directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and films including “Raise the Red Lantern” and “Hero.”
Revelations about the video have reignited the public outcry to root out corruption at the ministry that was first sparked by last year’s fatal crash on China’s high-speed rail network. The National Audit Office disclosed the cost of the video and called for a probe of the production a month shy of the one-year anniversary of the crash.
“The promotional video is only a small thing in the ministry’s operations, but it’s a vivid example of” mismanagement, said Zhao Jian, a professor of economics at Beijing Jiaotong University, which focuses on railways. “The ministry should investigate it thoroughly to avoid such cases in the future.”
Zhang defends himself and explains his role in the film in a video produced by Caixin.
The full promotional video, which is credited to Zhang Yimou as Director, is available on YouTube:
Read more about Zhang Yimou via CDT.