Zhang Yimou, one of China’s premier filmmakers and director of classics like Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou, Shanghai Triad and Shadow, has made his first spy thriller. CMC Pictures will bring Cliff Walkers to theaters across North America and internationally on April 30, 2021. The story follows four Chinese special agents who embark on a secret mission in the 1930s puppet state of Manchukuo. After being sold out by a traitor, the team finds themselves surrounded by threats on all sides. Cliff Walkers stars Zhang Yi (Operation Red Sea), Yu Hewei (I am Not Madame Bovary), Qin Hailu (The Pluto Moment), and Zhu Yawen (The Captain, The Witness).
The official synopsis reads:
“Based on the script by Quan Yongxian, CLIFF WALKERS is director Zhang Yimou’s first foray into the spy genre. Set the puppet state of Manchukuo in the 1930s; the film follows four Communist party special agents who return to China after receiving training in the Soviet Union. Together, they embark on a secret mission code-named “Utrennya.” After being sold out by a traitor, the team finds themselves surrounded by threats on all sides from the moment they parachute into the mission. Will the agents break the impasse and complete their mission? On the snowy grounds of Manchukuo, the team will be tested to their limit.”
Zhang Yimou’s movies are usually major events. He is a master of colour and light; his movies are painterly feasts for the eyes. This fits his experiences as a cinematographer before he became a director. In recent years, he has been making forays into genre filmmaking with wuxia flicks like Hero, The Great Wall, and the recent Shadow. WWII spy thrillers have been a staple in Chinese movies for decades, where heroic and self-sacrificing Chinese heroes are pitted against the ruthless, deadly, and unambiguously evil Japanese Army. Cliff Walkers is Zhang dipping his toe into those waters. There are shades of French noir director Jean-Pierre Melville in the images here.
There was a teaser trailer released late last year when the movie was still called “Impasse.”