Wu Tianming

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Wu Tianming
Born(1939-12-05)December 5, 1939
DiedMarch 4, 2014(2014-03-04) (aged 74)
Occupation(s)Film director
Film producer
AwardsHawaii Best Feature Film
1984 River Without Buoys
Tokyo Grand Prix
1988 Old Well
Tokyo Best Director Award
1996 King of MasksGolden Rooster AwardsBest Picture
1988 Old Well
Best Director
1988 Old Well
1996 King of Masks
Special Jury Award
2013 Song of the Phoenix

Chinese name
Traditional Chinese吳天明
Simplified Chinese吴天明

Wu Tianming (simplified Chinese: 吴天明; traditional Chinese: 吳天明; pinyin: Wú Tiānmíng; December 5, 1939 – March 4, 2014) was a Chinese film director and producer who was considered one of the leading "Fourth Generation" directors.[1]


Wu was born in Sanyuan County, Shaanxi Province, China on December 5, 1939. In 1960, aged twenty, he was accepted into a training class for film acting run by the Xi’an Film Studio. There were sixteen state-run studios in China at that time, and this was the closest to his home in Sanyuan, Shaanxi Province. He was put on the studio's payroll and had some bit-parts in the studio's productions of the early 1960s. In 1966, Mao's Cultural Revolution stopped productions in the studios. In 1974–1976, the last three years of the Cultural Revolution, Wu studied at the partly re-opened Beijing Film Academy, majoring in Film Directing.[1]

In 1982, Wu co-directed two features at Xi’an with his friend Teng Wenji. Afterwards Wu made his debut as a solo director with River Without Buoys, whose commercial success led to Wu Tianming's appointment as head of the Xi'an Film Studio in 1983. Wu was the youngest studio head in the PRC at 45 years old In 1984, Wu directed his movie Life (1984), attacking what he defined as the three main problems in Chinese society: having to accept assigned posts rather than choose one's own employment, the practices of nepotism and favoritism, and “unhealthy tendencies in the Party.” With his film "Life", Wu began a policy of producing movies with deep roots in the regions around Xi’an. Wu insisted on producing a number of experimental films, called "tansuo pian" to raise aesthetic and conceptual standards in China without regard to their commercial performance. Among these films were Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Horse Thief (Daoma Zei, 1986), shot in Tibet and Gansu, and Chen Kaige's King of the Children (Haizi Wang, 1987), shot in Yunnan.

By employing what became known as “Fifth Generation” directors like Tian and Chen and allowing them to make non-commercial films, Wu found himself in conflict with Wu Yigong at the Shanghai Film Studio, who regularly spoke out against “elitist” films which the mass audience couldn't understand or relate to. Wu Tianming prevailed due to his commercial success and the international acclaim the tansuo pian films garnered at international film festivals. In 1987, Wu made a deal with the cinematographer of his film, Zhang Yimou. Wu would give Zhang his directorial debut with Red Sorghum in return for starring Zhang starring in Wu's film Old Well and supervising the cinematography. Both movies were highly successful in the China market and achieved considerable international success.

When the head of Shaanxi Propaganda Bureau criticized Wu Tianming's policies, he fought back by publicly denouncing him as “a bureaucrat who doesn’t understand films but wants to control filmmaking.” At Xi'an Studio he nurtured prominent "Fifth Generation" directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige.[1] Wu came to the United States in 1989 as a visiting scholar at NYU and decided not to return to China in the wake of the events at Tiananmen Square. After several years of operating a video rental store in California, Wu returned to China in 1994 to direct the Shaw Brothers produced film The King of Masks[1] in 1995, which was internationally acclaimed. Wu's film An Unusual Love Story (Feichang Aiqing, 1998) was made in 1998. In 2012, Wu returned to his origins as an actor when he starred in the 2012 film Full Circle. Wu's final film, The Song of the Phoenix was completed in 2013, but was not released in China until May 6, 2016, more than two years after his death.

Wu Tianming died on March 4, 2014, from a heart attack, at the age of 74.[1]


As director[edit]

Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
1979 Reverberations of Life 生活的颤音
1980 Kith and Kin 亲缘
1983 River Without Buoys 没有航标的河流
1984 Life 人生
1986 Old Well 老井 1988 Golden Rooster for Best Director
1996 The King of Masks 变脸 1996 Golden Rooster for Best Director
1998 An Unusual Love 世界
2002 C.E.O.
2013 Song of the Phoenix 百鸟朝凤

As producer[edit]

Year English Title Chinese Title Director Notes
1985 The Black Cannon Incident 黑炮事件 Huang Jianxin
1986 The Horse Thief 盗马贼 Tian Zhuangzhuang
1987 Red Sorghum 紅高梁 Zhang Yimou 1988 Golden Rooster for Best Picture (shared with Wu's own Old Well)
2007 Mr. Cinema 老港正传 Samson Chiu


  1. ^ a b c d e 著名导演吴天明因心肌梗塞去世 享年75岁. Phoenix TV (in Chinese). 4 March 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2014.

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