BEIJING – Chinese moviegoers are gearing up for a month of solid patriotic fare in October as the government keeps a lid on any controversial pics ahead of a crucial Communist Party meeting.
The State Administration of Radio Film and Television has announced “Outstanding Golden Domestic Film Exhibition Month,” during which only “quality,” meaning propaganda, movies may be shown.
Several times a year, China puts a freeze on the release of foreign films in order to promote patriotic domestic fare, but this blackout is unusual as it also will have an impact on more controversial Chinese movies, such as Jiang Wen’s “The Sun Also Rises” and Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”.
The freeze runs from September 15 until October 30, according to a circular issued to the industry. The blackout is the third of four blackouts this year – the first freeze ran June 20 to July 11, the second from July 21 until August 12. The whole month of December will be for Chinese pics only.
“Foreign films are doing so well. They are doing anything to encourage the domestic films. But this is different because it’s about “quality” movies ahead of the party congress, which means propaganda movies,” said one Beijing-based Hollywood exec.
Catherine Zeta-Jones starrer “No Reservations” opens Friday to beat the blackout, while “The Sun Also Rises” is opening on September 13 to get in as the shutters come down. “Lust, Caution” with its controversial sex scenes, was originally due to preem on September 23. But it will now be postponed until after the Party Congress, which takes place once every five years.
President Hu Jintao is expected to cement his power base at the 17th Party Congress, which starts in mid-October, and there is a general move to ensure everything is done in the spirit of core socialist values in the run-up to the meeting. This means showing only films that underline President Hu’s message of a harmonious society.
Hollywood execs regularly complain of a lack of clarity on operating in China and list the blackouts as a major impediment. The blackouts lead to delays and translate into major revenue losses. By the time the movies hit the screens, pirates have often already flooded the market with cheap DVD copies. Hollywood has had a great year in China this year, led by tentpoles such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Transformers”.