May 10, 2006


Lou Ye's Tianamen Square film, SUMMER PALACE

Apparently Cannes hasn't gotten tired of the "last minute film from a Chinese director" routine. Last year it was Wong Kar-wai's 2046 that swooped in at the last minute (or was that the year before - I don't go to Cannes and so it's a big blur of silliness to me, full of photos of silicone breasts and yachts) and this year it's going to be Lou Ye's Tianamen Square film, SUMMER PALACE.

Lou's film has, predictably, run into problems getting approval from China's government certification board and I imagine if it doesn't make Cannes there're going to be loud cries of censorship from the Western press. Being censored in China is great publicity and movies often wind up bragging about it, like STOLEN LIFE (even when it's not true), or when it's a case of legal issues rather than government pressure, like with BLIND SHAFT (which trumpeted the fact that it didn't have a certificate to be shown in China, implying that it was censored for its raw, uncompromising look at Chinese mine workers. The fact was that the producers never submitted it for certification because they filmed illegally in privately owned mines and were worried about getting sued by the mine owners).

Lou Ye's SUMMER PALACE is a case where the movie isn't finished so it hasn't been officially submitted to the certification board, but it has been accepted to Cannes. This has caused problems for directors like Zhang Yimou in the past, but it's more an issue of not filling out the right forms rather than being somehow banned in China. The material is sensitive (the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests is a prohibited subject) but Lou Ye has reduced it to background and my guess is that, like PURPLE BUTTERFLY, unless you know the history already you won't have too much of a clue as to what's going on. Here's the plot synopsis that manages to gloss over anything controversial, as is the way of all plot synopses.

The movie was shown in rough form to the certification board who suggested edits and changes before it was officially submitted. But one week before Cannes starts there's been no official submission because Lou Ye is still working on the final sound mix.

But real censorship does exist all over the world, and it's not always an exagerration. Amir Muhammad's movie, THE LAST COMMUNIST, has been banned in Malaysia after being approved by the Malaysian Film Censorship Board to screen uncut (and being approved by Singapore's censors to play uncut). It was even screened (by special request) for the Special Branch unit of the Malaysian police force. But a campaign by a conservative paper to generate a phony public outcry over the film seems to have resulted in the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs banning the film throughout Malaysia (it was supposed to open on 3 screens).

So what is this terrible, controversial movie? It's a road movie/musical/documentary about the towns that Chin Peng, who was the exiled leader of Malaysia's communist party, lived in during his life. That's it. The movie talks to people in those town, some songs play, people chat - the end.

Malaysia seems intent on turning itself into an international example of "how not to have a film industry" with its bizarre censorship policies and Muhammad's THE LAST COMMUNIST is yet another casualty of a short-sighted government that doesn't value freedom of expression. You can read a fascinating step-by-step look at this car wreck over on Muhammad's blog.

(Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader and MonkeyPeaches for following the Lou Ye story)

May 10, 2006 at 02:27 PM in News | Permalink


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Posted by: fathi aris omar | May 13, 2006 9:00:43 AM

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