Controversial Chinese director Zhang Yimou has begun work directing a series of short films for China as part of its bid to host the Olympic Games in 2008.

The decision to commission Zhang is surprising, given his previous run-ins with the Chinese government. Zhang, who recently directed The Road Home and Not One Less, and was previously responsible for Raise The Red Lantern and Shanghai Triad, has frequently run into problems with the authorities in China. His films have often had censorship problems, having contained unflattering allegorical references to the Chinese establishment. He ran into further trouble in 1994 when he entered To Live at the Cannes festival without permission.

Appointing him to direct an official film smacks both of reconciliation and China's mastery of image control.

The untitled films are being produced in association with US sports documentarian Bud Greenspan and his Cappy Productions. The first is set to be unveiled on July 13 when the International Olympic Committee reveals which city has won the tender process. According to sources Beijing is the clear front-runner.

"This will be a new experience for fans of my films. These are quite different from my previous ones," said Zhang.

Zhang's latest feature is Happy Times which is the first production from Edward R Pressman and Terrence Malick's Sunflower Productions and will be handled by 20th Century Fox. Happy Times is produced by Pressman and Malick alongside Wang Wei, Zhao Yu, Zhou Ping and Zhang Weiping. It is being produced in conjunction with China's Guangxi Film Studio, Zhu Hai Guo Gi Enterprise Development Company and Beijing New Picture Distribution Company.