The Shanghai Film Festival has abruptly yanked its opening movie, the $80 million patriotic war drama “The Eight Hundred,” on the eve of the fest’s kickoff, Variety has confirmed. A restored 4K version of “Midnight Cowboy” will play tomorrow night instead, the organizers announced Friday evening on social media.
The cancellation of the Saturday premiere was made for unspecified “technical reasons,” which is often a euphemism for censorship problems, although a source close to the project told Variety that that is not the issue in this case and that the film had successfully passed the content censorship stage. “Technical reasons” were also cited in the withdrawal of Zhang Yimou’s “One Second” from the Berlin Film Festival in February.
While Chinese authorities have withdrawn films from other film festivals – two were pulled from the Berlinale, including “One Second” – it’s unusual for a Chinese-made film to be yanked from a Chinese festival.
“The Shanghai International Film Festival opening film screening of ‘The Eight Hundred’ originally planned for June 15 has been canceled due to technical reasons,” the production team said in a Chinese statement shared on social media. “For the inconvenience this brings to all the guests and media, we respectfully hope you can understand and hope everyone will continue to support us.”
“The Eight Hundred,” from well-established studio Huayi Bros., is directed by Guan Hu (“Mr. Six”) and centers on the sacrifice of a ragtag group of Chinese soldiers in 1937 Shanghai as imperial Japanese troops advanced. The theme would appear to be in keeping with the patriotic message that the Beijing regime wants to promulgate this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
“The Eight Hundred” was expected to have been a showcase for China’s growing filmmaking prowess. Among several firsts, it is the first film to have been substantially shot with Imax digital cameras. The technical crew on the film features a mixed Chinese and international team, including Chinese cinematographer Cao Yu (“Kekexili,” “Legend of the Demon Cat”), American action director Glenn Boswell (“The Matrix,” “I, Robot”), original music by the U.K.’s Rupert Gregson-Williams (“The Crown,” “Aquaman,” “Wonder Woman”), and Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Tim Crosbie (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”) of Australia.
“The Eight Hundred” has been picked up for North America by CMC Pictures in a deal announced at Cannes. It has also sold to several other Asian countries, and to the U.K. and Germany. After its Shanghai festival screening, it was due to be released in Chinese theaters July 5.