TAIPEI — Taiwanese helmer Tsai Ming-liang’s “The Wayward Cloud” bagged three trophies at February’s Berlin Film Festival — but Tsai hardly received a hero’s welcome at home, where the government has temporarily banned his pic from any form of exhibition.
The ensuing tug of war between government and director highlights the tension between censorship and artistic expression on an island that’s still relatively modest when it comes to baring theatrical skin. High profile of Tsai’s racy pic — perhaps best described as a sex musical — could push boundaries further than they’ve gone before.
The Government Information Office (GIO), which oversees the film industry, earlier authorized the “The Wayward Cloud’s” exhibition, but later backtracked when a new cut turned up in Berlin. The new version features full-frontal nudity, explicit sex scenes and numerous frank discussions about sex and masturbation that were not in the previous cut viewed by the GIO.
Government now insists that Tsai resubmit pic to a review board, which will make a ruling on whether or not to censor or cut entire scenes before approving it for public viewing.
“Absolutely no cuts,” Tsai responds. “I won’t let it be shown in Taiwan unless it’s screened in its entirety.”
As of yet, Tsai hasn’t submitted a new print to the GIO, thus banishing “The Wayward Cloud” to its own cloud nine. To further complicate the issue, pic received government coin, and Tsai is obligated to deliver the Taiwanese equivalent of an R-rated product.
A GIO rep concedes the issue was “controversial,” but hesitates to use the word ban.
“Taiwan is still a conservative society, and we have to comply with popular values and morals,” the rep says. “We try to find a balance between artistic freedom and the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens.”
Under current laws, the government picks a group of professors, officials and other prominent citizens to sit on a review board, which watches pics and makes recommendations on ratings. The GIO provides general guidelines for the board members, but also leaves much to their discretion and whim.
Currently, the GIO reserves the right to ban or censor films for any number of reasons. Obvious ones include nudity, graphic sex, violence and drug use. More subjective rulings include the banning of pics that, in the words of the GIO’s guidelines, “harm the national interest or national dignity” of Taiwan and even pics that “slander ancient sages and virtuous historical figures.”