Chinese film “Better Days,” about disaffected youth and a mysterious death, has been yanked from the Berlin Film Festival. Sources say that the movie failed to receive the necessary permits from authorities in China, where censorship and cultural control has tightened considerably in recent months.
The picture, by director by Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang, was due to receive its world premiere in Berlin’s youth strand, the Generation 14Plus section. But on Monday, the festival announced without explanation that all four screenings of “Better Days” had been canceled.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told Variety that the film had not obtained the official permits needed from mainland Chinese authorities. While Tsang hails from Hong Kong, which is under separate jurisdiction from the mainland on many matters, the film was made as a China-Hong Kong co-production, which means that mainland Chinese rules apply. Tsang is the son of well-known Hong Kong actor Eric Tsang, and made a splashy start as a director with “Soulmate.”
The film, whose title translates literally as “You as a Youth,” is adapted from a successful online novel about the encounter between a female student studying for the all-important national university-entrance exams and a street-smart man who takes her under his wing. A campus accident involving someone who had been bullying the young woman changes their fates.
In notes previously published on the Berlin festival website, the film was described as “a melodrama that speaks volumes about the social and political forces tugging at two young individuals in today’s China.” The film stars top young actress Zhou Dongyu and male heartthrob Yi Yangqianxi (also known as Jackson Yee).
The suspicion that the film fell foul of censorship and regulatory authorities in China is bound to fuel speculation that the Chinese entertainment industry remains under close scrutiny. Regulatory authority for the industry was last year moved to the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department. Since that time, there have been numerous calls for the industry to promote social harmony and “socialist values,” alongside a crackdown on traditional and social media not seen to be doing enough to clean up their activities and monitor users.
Despite that, there is a significant Chinese presence at the Berlinale this year. The main competition section boasts no fewer than three Chinese films, while Lou Ye’s film “The Shadow Play,” which had been expected to show up in Cannes, plays in Berlin’s Panorama. “Shadow Play” is described by Berlin organizers as a noir-ish tale of “corruption, building scandals and ruthless avarice.”
The sales company for “Better Days” did not respond to Variety’s request for comment. But the film’s cast and crew had apparently booked flights and hotels in Berlin in anticipation of “Better Days” receiving the permit to play at the festival.
It is not the first time that Berlin-bound films have had their overseas tours cut short by Chinese authorities. Two years ago, the bloodthirsty animated genre thriller “Have a Nice Day” screened in Berlin in February. But five months later, the film was withdrawn from the Annecy animation festival by its producers on the instructions of mainland authorities.