×

Chinese Research Group May Have Caused Cancellation of ‘The Eight Hundred’ Premiere

Chinese authorities may have abruptly yanked the $80 million patriotic war epic “The Eight Hundred” the day before its opening-night premiere at the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival because it didn’t portray rivals of the ruling Communist Party in a sufficiently negative light, local reports said.

Huayi Bros., which produced the film, had on Friday attributed the cancellation of the film’s Saturday evening premiere to “technical reasons.” That term has quickly become a euphemism for Chinese government interference.

But numerous Chinese-language reports speculate that the real cause might be gleaned from recent statements delivered by the China Red Culture Research Assn. The group of Communist Party-minded scholars and experts met in Beijing last Sunday and collectively deemed that “it would be very inappropriate to use ‘The Eight Hundred’ as a tribute to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China” this year, the group’s vice president, Hu Cheng, was quoted in numerous WeChat posts as saying.

The film tells the story of Chinese soldiers who defended a warehouse for four days in a 1937 incident during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Their operations were once praised by Mao Zedong himself as a “classic example of national revolution.”

Yet association members said the film mis-stepped in its portrayal of the rival Kuomintang Party, which ruled China until it lost the civil war against the Communists in 1949 and fled to Taiwan. The two parties continue to dispute their respective roles in fighting the Japanese.

In the most illuminating statement, the research association’s secretary general, Wang Benzhou, criticized the film by saying: “The class oppression within the ranks of the Kuomintang army, the misdeeds of its officers and its evil oppression of the people have disappeared without a trace, making it seem that the Kuomintang army was the real people’s army.”

He added: “The seriousness of the problem has gone far beyond the scope of literature and art; it is a reversal of history, and misleads the audience. If left unchecked, it will certainly deprive the entire Communist Party of its historical basis. Once the Party’s leadership is lost, the Chinese nation is bound to fall into the deep, miserable abyss of colonized and semi-colonized countries.”

Of particular concern was the epic’s climax, which apparently depicts a touching scene where the soldiers defend the Kuomintang flag on the warehouse roof. The film “shouldn’t so enthusiastically declare the ‘dignity’ and ‘sacredness’ of the Kuomintang flag. Whether or not it’s intentional, if we do that, we hurt the Chinese people, especially the soldiers who gave their lives to build the new China,” said group member Guo Songmin, a former air force lieutenant and film critic.

The upcoming 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic, in October, is of huge importance to the Communist Party, and is already being accompanied by heightened censorship and propaganda pushes. “They aren’t going to take chances this year, especially with the 70th coming up,” said Beijing-based historian Jeremiah Jenne. “Even things that seem relatively innocuous, or even beneficial, are going to get closer scrutiny, with the attitude being, ‘If there are any chances at all that it could backfire, let’s postpone it until a different time.’”

He added that “modern history in particular is a tricky minefield because it relates so closely to the party’s own history, mythology and legacy, so they tend to be more sensitive about that.”

While there is no hard evidence that the association’s opinions are the cause of the film’s canceled premiere, the group’s stance likely echoes that of the Party’s Propaganda Bureau, which since last year has taken over as China’s top film censorship authority, dictating what can be shown when.

“The Eight Hundred” was positioned as one of the summer’s major blockbusters, with a July 5 debut in both China and the U.S. and local media predictions of more than $215 million (RMB1.5 billion) at the box office. The sudden cancellation has raised concerns among online commentators that the film may not be allowed a theatrical release at all – even though the Chinese box office is currently suffering from a lack of strong local product, thanks to a severe production slowdown.

That would be a heavy blow to Huayi, which has already suffered multiple setbacks in the past year and incurred losses of $158 million (RMB1.09 billion).

The firm appears to have been caught totally unaware by the cancellation. On Friday, when the film was pulled, the company’s WeChat account went about business as usual, promoting it proudly as “an epic work that reflects the national spirit and extols our national heroes.”

On Thursday, the day before, Huayi co-chairman and co-founder Wang Zhongjun increased his personal stake in the company by buying an additional $14.4 million (RMB100 million) in shares.

More Film

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck Team on Revenge Film 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon, Affleck and Nicole Holofcener penned the script with Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. The project has been set [...]

  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas Ed Asner Elliott

    Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ed Asner, Elliott Gould Seek SAG-AFTRA Board Seats

    Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and Jonathan Taylor Thomas are seeking SAG-AFTRA national board seats as members of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Asner is the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving two terms from 1981 to 1985, and winning five Emmys for his role as Lou Grant and two others [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor Comic Con

    Comic-Con: Marvel 'Shock and Awe' Strategy Dominates Twitter Buzz

    Disney’s Marvel Studios handily won the hype trophy from this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Marvel Studios — which returned to the 2019 Comic-Con stage with a chock-full Phase 4 slate of announcements — dominated the discussion on Twitter out of the convention, capturing the biggest volume of buzz for nine of the top 10 [...]

  • Chris Rock - Netflix

    Chris Rock's 'Saw' Reboot Moves Up Five Months to May 2020

    Lionsgate has moved Chris Rock’s upcoming “Saw” reboot forward by five months to May 15, 2020, vacating the pre-Halloween date of Oct. 23, 2020. The studio indicated Monday that it decided to move the untitled “Saw” movie into the summer slot after seeing early footage from the set of the film currently shooting in Toronto. The move [...]

  • Peter Farrelly

    Peter Farrelly to Judge Sun Valley Film Festival's Film Lab Competition

    Sun Valley Film Festival has set “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly as the judge for the sixth annual Film Lab competition. The program, sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is in its sixth year, selects one team of filmmakers to work with the festival to complete their film projects. The director and producer of the [...]

  • The Lion King

    'The Lion King' Dominates, But Is Disney Running Low on Remakes?

    “The Lion King” and its massive $185 million domestic debut proved that audiences have an insatiable appetite for Disney’s remakes and re-imaginings. Despite mixed reviews, moviegoers turned out in force for director Jon Favreau’s hyper-realistic update of the classic cartoon. “The Lion King” broke numerous box office records, including the best start among Disney’s live-action [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content