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Albright Gives 'Titanic' an Icy Review

Movies: Secretary of state offers her opinion during a visit to film studio in Beijing.

April 30, 1998|JIM MANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — For a brief moment, the oft-weighty diplomacy between the United States and China gave way Wednesday to the subject of movies in general and "Titanic" in particular.

In the process, the movie that has broken many of the world's box-office records got negative reviews, at least from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

"Why do people here like it?" she asked Chen Kaige, one of China's best-known film directors. "I thought it was a terrible movie." Pausing, she repeated with greater emphasis, "I thought it was a terrible movie."

Chen admitted he didn't like "Titanic," either, though he volunteered that he had enjoyed "L.A. Confidential."

These exchanges took place as Albright took time out from meetings with Chinese officials to tour the Beijing Film Studio. She had earlier been informed that "Titanic" has become extremely popular in China and has even won plaudits from Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Albright arrived in Beijing on Wednesday to begin a two-day visit aimed at preparing the way for President Clinton's visit here in June. She spent most of the day in talks with Foreign Minister Tian Jiaxuan and Vice Premier Qian Qichen and is expected to meet today with Jiang and Premier Zhu Rongji.

The studio tour was said to be aimed at demonstrating Albright's interest in Chinese culture and American support for the cause of freedom of expression. In addition, her spokesman, James P. Rubin, said of his boss, "She is a movie buff."

There may well have been a commercial component to Albright's visit as well. The Motion Picture Assn. of America has been trying to win an increase in the number of American movies that can be shown in China and to persuade Chinese authorities to crack down on pirating of American films.

MPAA President Jack Valenti recently visited China. According to some reports, he suggested that if Chinese officials don't take stronger action soon against pirated movies, then at the time of Clinton's visit, Valenti may escort the traveling White House press corps on a tour of those places in Beijing where bootleg movies and tapes are available for sale.

At the Beijing Film Studio on Wednesday, Albright and her aides sat in a plush screening room and watched excerpts of Chen's acclaimed movie "Farewell My Concubine." The movie includes scenes of China's Cultural Revolution. "It's hard to imagine what it was like," Albright told Chen afterward. "We all read about it."

He escorted her on a tour of the muddy grounds of the studio, passing by the mock courtyard buildings and other structures where he and other Chinese directors make their films.

Later, Chen told reporters that there is still censorship in China but that it is not as great as in the past. Both "Farewell My Concubine" and another of Chen's most famous movies, "Yellow Earth," have been seen in China only in cut or edited versions. And Chen's last movie, "Temptress Moon," which was about corruption and decadence in Shanghai in the 1930s, has still not been shown at all in China--although Chen said he has never been given an explanation of why it is still off-limits.

Asked whether a Chinese director could make a movie about the Tiananmen Square demonstrations for democracy in 1989, Chen replied quickly: "No. It's out of the question."

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