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Making the final cut

November 21, 2002|Scarlet Cheng

The chronicles of Chinese filmmakers and their bouts with censorship are ongoing -- the central government's Film Bureau still bans frank sexual depictions and political sentiments it deems incorrect.

Probably more surprising is how filmmakers continue to work under the system.

At Cannes in 1993 noted directed Chen Kaige won the Palme d'Or for "Farewell My Concubine" (along with Jane Campion's "The Piano"), a tale of modern Chinese history as refracted through the lives of two close friends.

As stars of the Chinese opera, they enjoy their ups and then, during the Cultural Revolution when many artists and performers were considered decadent, suffer their public humiliation.

The Palme was the most prestigious award won by a Chinese film up until then, but back in China, the Film Bureau demanded cuts. "Farewell's" Hong Kong-based producer, Tomson Films, which desperately wanted the film released in China, negotiated and, in the end, made three snips.

Chen himself has refused to see the mainland version of the film, but reportedly the cuts included an embrace between two men (homosexual implications) and any reference that one character kills himself after the Cultural Revolution (read as a criticism of the current regime).

However, the director himself was not blacklisted and went on to make a historical epic, "The Emperor and the Assassin" (1999), and a contemporary drama, "Together" (2002), in China.

Fellow director and Beijing Film Academy schoolmate Tian Zhuangzhuang has not been so fortunate. After publicly criticizing government policy and then making "The Blue Kite," he was blacklisted in 1993, the year the film was completed, for an unspecified term.

Prevented from directing, Tian has stayed busy helping others get films produced. "Springtime in a Small Town," based on a classic 1948 film about a love triangle, is, in a sense, his public rehabilitation.

Officially, anyone making a feature in China is subject to government regulation. There must be script approval before shooting begins, and then final-cut approval if the film is to be shown in China.

-- Scarlet Cheng

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