An important figure in China's "Fourth Generation", Wu Tianming also served as mentor to such "Fifth Generation" directors as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Tian Zhuangzhuang while heading the Xi'an Film Studio. Born in 1939, Wu developed an early interest in the theater and worked odd jobs at local playhouses in order to observe the actors at work. By the time he reached his teens, however, he had shifted interest to motion pictures, crediting Dovzhenko's "Poem of the Sea" (1958) as the primary impetus for his filmmaking career. But he first put in time as a stage actor and, after 1960, a film player with Xi'an Film Studio. Six years later, he was on the way to realizing his dream of attending the Beijing Film Academy but the stirrings of the Cultural Revolution derailed those plans as his father, a local government official, was purged from his post and imprisoned.