Just a day before its scheduled China debut, director Lou Ye’s latest film, “Saturday Fiction,” has been pulled from its slot as the opener of the mainland’s Golden Rooster Film Festival because of unspecified “internal production problems,” according to Chinese film website Mtime. Speculation has been spreading online that it will also be yanked from its currently scheduled Dec. 7 nationwide theatrical release.
The film by Chinese “Sixth Generation” director Lou competed for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September. It has been replaced on opening night of the Golden Rooster festival by an innocuous music documentary about shakuhachi – long, traditional bamboo flutes that originated from China and spread to Japan – called “One Sound, One Life.” Directed by Helen Yu, the film grossed just $500,000 in mainland theaters in May.
“Saturday Fiction” is now at least the fifth Chinese film to run into trouble this year at a festival because of government interference, as authorities step up censorship and enforcement of a new law requiring films to obtain a special license to be screened abroad.
“Saturday Fiction” was set to screen in the Golden Rooster festival as part of the “new local films” section. This year, the festival is scheduled to take place in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen at the same time as Taiwan’s more prestigious Golden Horse Film Festival, with both festivals culminating in rival award ceremonies on Saturday. Mainland authorities have banned Chinese artists and industry players from attending the Taipei festival because last year a Taiwanese filmmaker made comments in support of Taiwanese independence in her award acceptance speech, a stance that angers Beijing.
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Lou’s film is a black-and-white feature about espionage in 1940s, Japanese-occupied Shanghai. It stars Gong Li, Taiwanese actor Mark Chao, Japan’s Joe Odagiri and France’s Pascal Greggory. Though “Saturday Fiction” is Lou’s 11th feature-length film, it would be only his fifth to screen in his homeland if it manages to make it past censors.
Lou and his longtime collaborator, Nai An, were banned from the Chinese industry more than five years over his 2006 film “Summer Palace,” which depicted the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival without the permission of Chinese government censors.
He has since started making fare that audiences in China can see. His police procedural “The Shadow Play” hit Chinese theaters in April, making $9.2 million (RMB64.7 million). It premiered at last year’s Golden Horse Film Festival in Taipei, where it was nominated for four awards, including best director.
Starring Jing Boran and Song Jia and produced by Nai, “The Shadow Play” did not receive any nominations at the biannual, Chinese government-backed Golden Roosters. This year, the Roosters will honor films screened in the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2019, meaning that “Saturday Fiction” is ineligible to compete.
Problems for Chinese films on the festival circuit began at Berlin in February, where Zhang Yimou’s “One Second” and Derek Tsang’s “Better Days” were both pulled. (An edited version of the latter is currently in Chinese theaters and has grossed $212 million so far.) Crime drama “Summer of Changsha” earned the displeasure of Chinese officials for screening at Cannes in May without a so-called dragon seal, and Huayi Bros. war epic “The Eight Hundred” was pulled from opening the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival in June.
In July, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” the winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, was yanked from its position as the closing film of China’s FIRST Film Festival, in Xining, for “technical reasons.”