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Zhang Yimou’s Censored ‘One Second’ Finally Has a Release Date

One Second, directed by Zhang Yimou
Photographer:BAIXIAOYAN

After a long tussle with China’s censorship authorities, director Zhang Yimou’s Cultural Revolution-set film “One Second” will finally hit local cinemas on Nov. 27, more than a year and a half after it was first set to debut.

The title was originally to premiere in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2019, but was abruptly yanked from the lineup just days before due to “technical reasons,” a common euphemism for state censorship in China. The incident stands as the highest profile case of censorship of Chinese cinema abroad in recent years.

The newly approved version of “One Second” clocks in at 104 minutes, a minute shorter than the listed run time when it was set to debut in Berlin.

Chinese reports have said that the crew likely returned last October to their original shooting location on the edge of the Gobi desert in the Dunhuang, Gansu, province to shoot additional footage, presumably to replace any censored sections. The production team declined to officially confirm this, but the film’s star, actor Zhang Yi (“Operation Red Sea”) posted a new still from the shoot with the caption “returned to Dunhuang again; expect [the film] in the future,” suggesting that re-shoots had occurred.

The film tells the story of a strong bond that forms between three characters played by Zhang Yi, Liu Haocun, and Fan Wei because of a movie. A new trailer depicts a gritty rural town during the Cultural Revolution period where residents have gathered to watch a projected film, only to find that the print has been unwound, dragged through the dirt and nearly destroyed. They work together to repair it even as a young street urchin fights to steal it. The tone is feel-good and upbeat, comedic but not satirical, despite dark elements like a knife fight in which a man knocks said young urchin unconscious.

New promotional posters for the film consist merely of a handwritten note from Zhang Yimou, who writes, “I’ll never be able to forget the feeling I had when watching a film when I was young. That indescribable excitement and joy was like a dream. Film accompanies us as we grow older. Dreams follow us are whole lives. There will always be a film that you remember your whole life. What you remember perhaps isn’t the film itself, but the kind of longing and expectation you get from looking up at the stars.”

He has previously called “One Second” his “love letter to cinema.”

Zhang Yimou has already completed two other films ready for release: crime drama “Under the Light,” which will debut later this year, and thriller “Impasse,” which also stars Zhang Yi and is set to hit in 2021. He recently also registered a new project about a Chinese sniper renowned for his ability to take out American soldiers during the Korean War, which was recently approved by authorities and cleared to begin shooting.