The upcoming China release of “Youth,” a bittersweet drama from famed director Feng Xiaogang about the Chinese military, has been abruptly halted. The film was scheduled for release Sept. 29 and was expected to dominate the charts over the Oct. 1 National Day holiday.
Instead, ticket sales have been halted. Chinese media reported a statement attributing the delay to “discussions with the Film Bureau and other parties.” The film’s backer and principal distributor, Huayi Brothers, has not responded to requests from Variety for comment.
Local media have been quick to suggest that the release is a casualty of the upcoming National Congress of the Communist Party of China. This highly symbolic political event occurs once every five years, and experience suggests that China’s rulers will crack down on dissent, discussion or any kind of controversy before and during the meeting.
“Youth,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, tracks the tempestuous fates of a People’s Liberation Army dance troupe from the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution to the 1990s. The Cultural Revolution remains a sensitive and painful period of Chinese history. The film also covers the period during which China and Vietnam went to war.
Feng’s examination of the period will appear as nationalistic in some eyes, critical of government in others. Variety reviewer Maggie Lee said: “The film serves as a paean to idealism and endurance, yet the word ‘heartbreaking’ comes to mind scene after scene.”
Military veterans have been some of the few groups in recent years bold enough to make public protests in China. Many have complained about insufficient compensation and social welfare.