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Chinese Drama ‘Better Days,’ Yanked From Berlin Lineup, Has Its China Release Canceled

Better days may be a long way off yet for the embattled Chinese drama “Better Days,” which has canceled its mainland China release just three days before the film was to hit theaters. The movie was also pulled at the last minute from the Berlin Film festival lineup in February amid tightening control by China’s censorship regime.

Early Monday evening in China, the film’s official Weibo social media account apologized to expectant viewers for the inconvenience, saying: “After considering the level of completion of ‘Better Days’ and our market pre-assessments, and following consultations between the production and distribution parties, the film will not be released on June 27. A new release date will be announced at a later time.” 

No other explanation for the cancellation was given. But most industry players attribute it to government interference, particularly in the wake of three other such sudden incidents in the past four months.

Adapted from the novel “Young and Beautiful,” the China-Hong Kong co-production tells the story of a girl who is harassed at school and becomes embroiled in a murder. The film, which contains a scene of violent bullying, stars it-girl Zhou Dongyu and Jackson Yee, the youngest member of the ultra-popular Chinese boy band TFBoys.

News of the cancellation comes after the film’s director, Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang of Hong Kong, had already made plans to be in Beijing for the premiere and for some low-key promotional activity. Tsang last directed Zhou in her breakout role in the 2016 drama “Soul Mate,” which won her a best actress prize at the 53rd Golden Horse Film Awards. He declined to comment on the cancellation.

Chinese online news source Sina Film reported that “Better Days” had not yet received the “ranking number” or public screening license it needed to open pre-sales and hit theaters. 

The incident comes hot on the heels of the high-profile cancellation of Huayi Brothers’ $80 million patriotic war epic “The Eight Hundred” as the opening film at the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival. It was yanked just 24 hours before its big debut.

Zhang Yimou’s Cultural Revolution-era film “One Second” was also pulled from Berlin. And last month, unable to actually pull their film from screening in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard selection, the team for Chinese drama “Summer of Changsha” had to distance themselves from the event and refrain from attending any festival-related events or promotion.

In all instances, official statements cited unspecified “technical reasons” for the film’s troubles – a phrase that has come to be known as a euphemism for government interference.

China last year put the Communist Party’s Propaganda Bureau in charge of regulating films, and numerous industry insiders have complained of trouble getting works past censors who are party bureaucrats with little understanding of the medium.

When “Better Days” was pulled from its Berlin debut in the 14Plus selection in February, its official Weibo account said: “We are very sorry to tell everyone that because of post-production reasons, the film ‘Better Days’ will not be able to attend the 69th Berlin Film Festival in time. We thank the Berlin Festival for its recognition and understanding, and everyone for their support.” It added, however, that the film would be released later in the year, saying, “See you soon.”

Within an hour of the announcement that “Better Days” would not be released this week, more than 50,000 fans responded, most of them commenting: “No matter how long it takes, I’ll wait for you!”

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