It wasn't 8:30 yet when we entered Jade Dragon Snow Mountain National Park.
We got into the cable car cabin. We ascend to 4600 meters of the highest mountain range in the province of Yunnan. We are a thousand meters from its supreme peak, the Shanzidou.
Even so, weather conditions quickly proved adverse to any longer exploration or contemplation.
A furious wind intensified the cold we felt in our faces and bodies and prevented us from walking straight on the footbridge installed in the snowy slope.
We suffered the good suffering to go from top to bottom.
And what is our surprise when we find two Southeast Asian Buddhist monks wrapped in their usual yellow-brown tunics, both wearing bonnets to protect their heads, but only sandals and socks on their feet.
Neither the religious, with their faith, nor anyone else could withstand much longer exposed to the wrath of the mountain.
Like several other frozen visitors, we barely returned to the cable car base station, recovered sipping hot chocolate and traveled a few kilometers to an enclosure on a street named Guodahuma, next to Lijiang old town.
There, dozens of buses, minibuses, vans and other vehicles dropped passengers, mostly Chinese excited by the evasion and fun in which they saw themselves.
We followed the human current into a kind of amphitheater that, instead of being a mere stage, had, on the opposite side of the stands, a large red wall arranged in subtle terraces.
Impressions, Lijiang, Naxi Culture, Yi, Bai and Mosuo in Monumental Mode
We were at an altitude of 3500 meters. As horizon and natural background we saw the same Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from which we had arrived.
It took the anxious crowd an eternity to settle. He completely ignored the insistent attempts to ban employees from the premises and armed himself with photographing and filming machines.
The show did not wait for the audience's calm.
It started with an exuberant video presentation. Once finished, dozens of young extras and actors in traditional attire from which white fluffy vests stood out. They interacted with a male locution, in Mandarin, with an almost military tone.
In a carefully choreographed way, it recruited more than five hundred natives from different villages and towns, around a hundred of them, at intervals, on as many small horses.
Or, in the case of women, with huge traditional baskets full of tea on their backs.
Through this troupe, Zhang Yimou's show exhibited the peculiarities of the lifestyles of minorities Naxi, Yi, Bai and Mosuo, one of the rare surviving matriarchal ethnic groups in China.
The extras walked along the terraces in graceful rows until they filled them completely or just rows and columns handpicked by Zhang Yimou's team.
Whichever disposition they took, the show it benefited from the sumptuousness of the snowy peaks of Yulong Mountain from behind and left the audience in awe.
But the “Impressions” of Zhang Yimou – director we know around here from films like “Red Corn”, “The Secret of Flying Daggers” and “Hero”, among others – are far from satisfying everyone.
If the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games that he co-authored had their detractors, with their regional and seasonal shows, it was no different.
Yimou's first impression: “Impression: Liu Sanjie” was hugely successful and urged him to create others. Years later, local politicians continue to accuse him of irresponsibility as did the deputy mayor of a city in Hunan province in the opinion piece “Zhang Yimou is no savior; That does not create "Impressions" blindly."
The lengthy review included the following excerpt: “Under the cover of massive collateral investments, Zhang Yimou managed to get several tourist sites in China to compete for him to install his productions there.
This, despite the astronomical amounts required to host the shows (na: 80 to 400 million euros), tickets (na: more than 25€) and commissions by Yimou and his team.
However, the feast of light and shadow that captures the eye leaves nothing of the show behind after its exhibition season.”
This same mayor also pointed out to Yimou the fact that he was responsible for the huge debts accumulated by local governments in the increasingly numerous cases in which their “Impressions” proves to be failures or successes worn out by time and the exhausting repetition of the same formula.
By Chinese standards, Yimou's own life seems to run counter to this denunciation.
In 2014, the director had to pay a fine of about one million euros due to unauthorized births and their “social support”, this for having fathered seven children with four different women and thus violating the Only Child Policy with which China seeks to control its population growth.
A few days later, we traveled from northern Yunnan to the east and settled in Yangshuo, a region so famous for its countless limestone cliffs scattered around the Li River, comparable to those of the Huang Shan mountain and that many of the Chinese restaurants around the world have illustrations of these scenes decorating them.
We explored it by boat and by bicycle. On one of the post-exploring nights, we also took the opportunity to peek at the first of the “Impressions".
"Impression Liu Sanjie” premiered in 2004. It is based on a legend of the Zhuang people – the largest of the ethnic minority groups in China – around a woman (Liu Sanjie, the third sister of the Liu family) since an early age endowed with magnificent singing.
Liu Sanjie managed, with his voice, to calm the anger and lift the spirits of the people around him. She was envied by Mo Huairen, a bandit who wanted to make her his concubine.
It's pitch-dark as we sit down by the river, this time, with the huge boulders lit up in the distance, gray but flecked with vegetable green beyond the silhouette of a marginal bamboo forest.
The faint light also reflected from the river surface is soon broken up by colored beams.
The protagonist Liu Sanjie appears singing on a small traditional boat.
It generates a wave of enthusiasm in the river work and in the lives of hundreds of boatmen in conical hats, symbolized by the waves and other movements produced when they wave long red plastic bands.
As in Lijiang, the audience does not rest and talks among themselves about the plot that continues, using more than XNUMX extras from the area – most of them fishermen from five villages on the banks of the Li – their boats and utensils.
Sophisticated lighting produces the effects and sensations that delight the audience.
As the river flows, we understand how, combined with the show's eccentric location and the extras' mastery of traditional navigation, it justified the first of Yimou's greatest hits.
The great Chinese fever of the “Impressions”, this one doesn't seem to end.
Immune to any criticism, the director and producer continues to install new shows in visually deserving or simply more affluent places in vast China.