Chinese Filmmaker Zhang Yimou Under Investigation for Fathering Seven Children

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Zhang Yimou is one of China's most famous and respected filmmakers and the guy who was in charge of the Beijing Olympics' amazing opening and closing ceremonies. However, he's making headlines today for something that has nothing to do with show biz.

Reports surfaced Thursday that Chinese officials are investigating allegations that Zhang has violated the nation's strict family planning laws, and has fathered as many as seven children with four different women. While such behavior might generate a minor scandal in the United States or Europe, it's against the law in China, where the state carefully monitors population growth. China permits most couples to have only one child, offers rewards for couples that have no children, and levies severe fines against those who opt to have larger families. Penalties are determined based on the offender's income and number of offspring; in Zhang's case, the filmmaker could face a penalty of 160 million Yuan, or roughly $26 million.

Zhang is one of China's most honored filmmakers, but he's been a controversial figure in his homeland. Zhang's first feature, "Red Sorghum" (1987), earned the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival and solidified his reputation as China's most important new filmmaker. Though his second and third features -- "Ju Dou" (1989) and "Raise the Red Lantern" (1992)  -- were international successes, they were clear allegories for the government's violent crackdown during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, causing both films to be banned in China.

Since then, Zhang has directed a string of major art house blockbusters like "Hero" (2002), "House of Flying Daggers" (2004) and "Curse of the Golden Flower" (2006). His movie recent movie, "The Flowers of War" (2011) starred Christain Bale. Zhang also has a knack for spotting future movie stars early. He cast future international A-lister Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi (no relation) in their first starring roles.

Family planning officials in the city of Wuxi are said to be handling the investigation into Zhang; the city is the home of the filmmaker's second wife, actress Chen Ting. Zhang's alleged seven children were supposedly fathered with Chen, his first wife Xiao Hua, and two other women. Zhang's daughter with Xiao, Zhang Mo, studied filmmaking in the States, and worked as part of her father's editorial team, serving as a translator during the production of "The Flowers of War."

Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, said the result of the Wuxi investigation would be released soon.