China’s censors get a Venice fest surprise

Cai's 'People' unspools without permission

Venice surprise movie, “People Mountain People Sea” (Ren shan ren hai) by Chinese helmer Cai Shangjun, may also turn out to be a surprise for Chinese authorities.

That’s because the pic, which world preemed Tuesday at the fest, did so without approval from China’s film censors, said sources.

This happens quite often with Chinese pics at international fests and can have serious repercussions. Helmer Lou Ye was banned from working in China for five years after his “Summer Palace,” set against the backdrop of events in Tiananmen Square, played at Cannes in 2006 without approval.

“People Mountain” tells the story of five brothers chasing a criminal in Guizhou province. Among other things, it contains realistic scenes of tough labor conditions in a Chinese mine, which may not sit well with local censors.

Pic is sophomore outing for Cai after “The Red Awn” which won the 2007 Fipresci nod in Pusan.

Helmer is also known as regular scripter for Zhang Yang, working on “Spicy Love Soup,” “Shower” and “Sunflower.”

China has a solid record in the Lido’s surprise film category. Jia Zhangke’s “Still Life” was the surprise film in 2006 and won the Golden Lion. In 2006 Zhangke, who is prexy of the Horizons jury, used the fest as a platform to lash out against Chinese censors.

(Clifford Coonan in Beijing contributed to this report.)