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Six degrees

Kylie Knott

 

Zhang Yimou has been in the news amid claims the film director (right), one of China’s finest, broke the mainland’s strict family planning laws. By fathering seven children in two marriages and relationships with two other women, he now faces fines of more than US$26 million. Zhang’s work includes Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern and Hero. He also oversaw the production of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and, in 1998, directed an acclaimed version of the opera Turandot, written by Giacomo Puccini …

 

Born in 1858, Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian composer and one of the greatest exponents of verismo, or realism, in opera. A habitual smoker, he died in 1924 of complications related to throat cancer. When news of his death reached Rome, a performance of his La bohème was stopped and the orchestra struck up Chopin’s Funeral March instead. His life had almost been cut short in 1903 by a car crash, which delayed the completion of Madama Butterfly. That opera would become one of the most performed worldwide and, in 1915, was made into a silent film directed by Sidney Olcott and starring Canadian-American actress Mary Pickford …

 

Known as “America’s Sweetheart” and “The girl with the curls”, Pickford, born in 1892, was a Hollywood heavyweight: a co-founder of the film studio United Artists and one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, she was also an astute businesswoman, becoming the first actress to negotiate for and receive a percentage of a film’s earnings. She divorced her first husband, actor Owen Moore, on March 2, 1920 and later that month married film star Douglas Fairbanks …

 

Famous for his swashbuckling roles in films such as Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro, Fairbanks was a regular visitor to Shanghai in the decadent 1930s. “To me there are only five prominent cities in the world and Shanghai in my opinion occupies the limelight as the most colourful, interesting and progressive,” he once told a press conference at the Cathay Hotel (now the Fairmont Peace Hotel), where he often stayed. The art-deco hotel welcomed a slew of famous guests in the past, from Noel Coward (who penned Private Lives while staying in its penthouse) to Charlie Chaplin and writers George Bernard Shaw and J.G Ballard …

 

Born in Shanghai in 1930, Ballard is best known for Empire of the Sun, his semi-autobiographical 1984 novel about a British boy, Jamie Graham (Ballard’s own “J.G” stood for “James Graham”), growing up in the Chinese city and his experiences in a Japanese internment camp. In 1987, the book was made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Along with John Malkovich, it starred a 13-year-old Christian Bale …

 

Bale is most famous for playing Batman. But, in 2011, he made headlines when he was stopped from visiting blind civil-rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who was under house arrest for his work exposing abuses under the mainland’s one-child policy. Bale, who stated at the time that he “just wanted to shake [Chen’s] hand and say what an inspiration he is”, was punched and denied access by security guards. Bale was in China to promote The Flowers of War. The actor had a lead role in the wartime drama, set in 30s Nanjing and directed by Zhang Yimou.

 

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