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Busan: Why ‘Rib’ Director Zhang Wei Accepted 40 Minutes of Censorship Cuts

Independent Chinese director Zhang Wei must be one of the best-tempered auteurs in the industry. He repeatedly accepts setbacks like badges of honor, but plows on anyway.

Zhang has produced, directed and financed socially aware films “Factory Boss” and “Sound of a Dream,” with his latest film, “The Rib,” world-premiering at the Busan International Film Festival. But before getting to Korea, it underwent a massive 40- minute cut in a unique censorship process.

The film depicts the strained relationship between a devout Christian father and his son, who is seeking a sex change operation. Initially opposed to his son’s plans, the father seeks further guidance after he is shaken by the suicide of a friend.

“It is very much the father’s journey,” Zhang told Variety. “On one level it is a father-son story. On another, it is an exploration of the LGBT community that the father goes to consult. Many people in real life feel unable to reveal their true selves, and flee from their family.”

The role of Christianity, which China permits in an unusual pact between the Communist government and the Vatican, is also crucial to “The Rib.” China no longer criminalizes homosexuality or categorizes a gay lifestyle as a mental illness and it does permit transgender surgery. But it remains a major social stigma. And the church in China forbids sex changes.

“All the LGBT depictions in my film are accurate and (China’s censors at) the Film Bureau had no problem in approving the movie. But the Film Bureau obliged it to also be approved by the church. The church required me to cut 40 minutes of rites and religious activities.” The film’s run time, according to the Busan catalog, is a brisk 85 minutes.

“I am not trying to attack the system, and I understand the double censorship process, which is intended to preserve social harmony. I totally accept the cuts,” said Zhang.

That might sound implausible coming from anyone else, especially when Zhang describes “The Rib” as his passion project, and had largely financed it himself. But Zhang’s way of dealing with obstacles is to simply find another mountain to climb.

He is currently readying three other films. One, “Empty Nest,” is his first adaptation of an existing work. It sees a lonely, intellectual woman allow herself to be the victim of fraud, because it provides her with human company. Another sees a courageous scientist take on the established Chinese and U.S. government positions on genetically modified food. A third will probe depression among the professions.

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