With this ravishing new film, Tian Zhuangzhuang returns to the pastoral cinematic territory of the documentary-based ethnographic explorations of his earlier masterpieces, On the Hunting Ground and The Horse Thief. Shot along an ancient trading route that is etched on the mountainside from the high plateau in Western Yunnan to the trading outposts of Tibet, above the roar of the Nujiang Rive, Delamu is animated by a series of portraits of people along the way. An old Protestant pastor has returned to his church and his fellow Lisu tribesmen in his parish after years of exile and imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution; a young Tibetan describes his life with his older brother and the wife they share; an old woman from the Nu minority recalls the days when soldiers of the Kuomintang sought out her hand in marriage; and a young wrangler speaks tenderly of the sure-footed mules and ponies who help him make his living. The range and utterly compelling humanity of these and other intimate sketches are as awe-inspiring as the plunging gorges and the soaring mountains that form the backdrop of this work of measured beauty.
Tian Zhuangzhuang was born in Beijing in 1952 to parents who were well known actors (Tian Fang and Yu Lan). Sent to Jilin Province for "re-education," he found escape only by joining the army, where he served as a trainee cinematographer on agricultural documentaries. In 1978, he entered the reopened Beijing Film Academy, codirecting the student film Our Corner (1980), the first sign of the coming new wave in Chinese cinema. After graduation his third feature, The Horse Thief (1985), won over worldwide audiences, and is seen as one of the cornerstones of "Fifth Generation" filmmaking: a modern classic. In and out of trouble with the authorities for most of his career, he was blacklisted for a year after his film The Blue Kite won the Grand Prix at the 1992 Tokyo International Film Festival. Between 1994 and 1997, he ran Pegase within Beijing Film Studio. In 2002, his film Springtime in a Small Town won the San Marco Prize at the Venice International Film Festival.