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Zhang Yimou’s ‘Shadow’ Hit With Music Copyright Lawsuit

A lawsuit has cast a shadow over director Zhang Yimou’s stylish martial-arts epic “Shadow,” which won four prestigious Golden Horse Awards in Taipei last weekend, the most of any title.

The movie’s soundtrack earned a nomination for best original score for composer Loudboy (it did not win). But another composer has now accused “Shadow” producer Le Chuang Entertainment of stealing her work, alleging that it had been plagiarized in the film and used without credit in trailers.

Dong Yingda, a professor of film music at China’s Central Conservatory, wrote in a long statement on Weibo, China’s Twitter, that Zhang had commissioned her to develop the movie’s soundtrack in February of last year. She assembled a team of music history experts and top performers of classical Chinese instruments, such as the zither and pipa (a four-stringed lute), to create a score befitting the third-century Three Kingdoms period, during which the film is set.

After eight months of effort, the team was told its work wouldn’t be used in the final version of the movie and so would not be credited. But Dong said she and other team members were surprised to find upon its release that the final soundtrack sounded very familiar and that parts of their original score appeared in promotional videos.

“We were shocked to find that, throughout the entire film, the melodies, harmonies, musical style, use of instruments and so on were very similar to or even the same as those in our version! They just plugged in different musicians to play our music, and can pretentiously call it original? This is really an enormous joke!” Dong said, who is now seeking credit and compensation.

She posted a photo of an official document stating that a Beijing court last Friday accepted her suit against Le Chuang.

For its part, Le Chuang said Sunday that it had parted ways with Dong and her team over creative differences. It had already expressed “thanks and respect” for her help and credited her team for what it called “early phase composition” work. The company said it would cooperate with any investigation.

Dong angrily called Le Chuang’s explanation a made-up “excuse.” She added: “The choice to collectively speak up comes from the fact that the industry doesn’t value original music and has no awareness of intellectual property protection. We hope that [our] efforts will provide basic intellectual property protection for more musicians, including ourselves.”

Musicians from her team chimed in, commenting: “I refuse to be a shadow of ‘Shadow’!” – a reference to how one of the main characters in the movie secretly assumes the identity of another, acting as an uncredited stand-in. 

Dong said she was fed up with frequently losing credit for her work.

“The first time it happened, I wanted to treat it like a ‘normal’ thing, the way my colleagues did. I didn’t dare offend the producer, and was afraid that I’d be blacklisted and unable to stay in the industry,” she wrote. “But when such a disappointing thing keeps occurring, we need to create a model that helps more people understand how we might solve the problem.”

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