Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Newsbites: Hu Jie Blocked from Travel, Beijing Indie Film Fest Blackout, and Painted Skin 2 Smashes Box Office Records

Screening China’s regular roundup of Chinese film news.

The environment for China’s independent film sector continues to deteriorate, even as box office records in mainstream cinemas are regularly broken. Two recent episodes have highlighted the difficulties independent filmmakers and festivals are facing.

Hu Jie Prevented from Leaving China
Chinese documentarian Hu Jie.

The well known documentarian Hue Jie (Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul, Though I Am Gone) was prevented from leaving China last month to attend a screening of his Lin Zhao film at the Nepalese Film Southasia Festival of Southasian Documentaries.
Earlier this week I talked via email about the incident to La Frances Hui of the Asia Society New York, who curated the program of Chinese documentaries at Film Southasia. She explained that Hu’s application for a Nepalese visa was endlessly delayed. “The travel agent came up with many explanations including a typhoon somewhere, Nepal’s holiday schedule, and consulate delays,” she explained.

When festival staff made enquiries with the Nepalese consulates in China, Hui says they found the travel agent they were using had never lodged Hu’s visa application. “The travel agent conspired with hidden forces to hold Hu Jie’s passport and make sure he went nowhere,” Hui commented.

The moves appear to have been targeted specifically at Hu Jie, as Chinese filmmakers Jian Yi and Huang Weikai were able to travel to Nepal for the festival without any problems. It appears that Hu Jie was unaware of any travel ban before the incident, and was able to travel to the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong late last year.

“We are not sure if it’s anything he did recently, a small bureaucrat’s random decision, or the sensitivity of Nepal that triggered this,” La Frances Hui explained.

Poster for the China Expose program at the recent Film Southasia festival in Nepal.
Chinese influence is strong in Nepal, which has been dominated by the Maoist Unified Communist Party since elections in 2008, but it’s unclear if this played a part in Hu Jie being blocked from travel.

Hu sent a moving statement to Film Southasia to be read to the audience before the screening of Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul. La Frances Hui translated the statement and posted it on Facebook – dGenerate republished it here.

Incidentally, La Frances Hui recently put together a bunch of recommendations of Chinese documentary titles from various experts in the field for China File – check out the article here.

You can read my recently published 2010 interview with Hu Jie here.

Beijing Independent Film Festival Opening Shut Down – Again

The Beijing Independent Film Festival, organised by the Li Xianting Film Fund, kicked off on August 18 out in Songzhuang, on the very far eastern fringe of Beijing. Or at least it tried to. As Kevin B. Lee of dGenerate Films reported for Indiewire, the opening screening of Huang Ji’s Egg and Stone was interrupted by a mysterious power cut.

Wang Hongwei (in the black t-shirt) of the Beijing Independent Film Festival talks to the press after the festival opening was disrupted by a power cut. Image Kevin B. Lee.

In an online chat with me last week, Lee speculated that that large crowd of 500 or so attracted to the opening may have spooked local authorities. After the power cut he says he noticed the audience was peppered with “middle aged men with unfriendly expressions who clearly didn’t look like movie fans or arts aficionados.” He also said numerous people were turned away at the entrance to the venue by security personnel even before the electricity was switched off.

Power was never restored to the venue, and screenings that evening moved to the festival offices – until authorities threatened to cut the power there too. Screenings reportedly then took place in various private residences around the Songzhuang art district.

Last year’s festival was also disrupted by authorities.

You can view Kevin B. Lee’s interview with festival director Li Xianting about the blackout here.

Lee’s video reports from the festival can be viewed here and here.

SARFT’s censorship of online “micro films”

In other censorship news, China Media Project reported in July that the dreaded State Administration of Radio, Film and Television had “announced new restrictions on micro films, online dramas and other emerging forms of video content.” These are basically small works, often shot on mobile phones and other portable digital video devices, that are posted online.

The report quoted a SARFT spokesperson saying that online videos had to “adhere to correct guidance,” which is SARFT speak for submitting to their censorship regime.

Given the vast parameters of the online space, it remains to be seen how effective any attempt to restrict this content will be.

Painted Skin 2 Box Office Smash

The lovely Zhou Zun in Painted Skin 2.
In more mainstream news, The Guardian reported at the end of July that Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection – sequel to the 2008 hit Painted Skin had a huge opening in China at the end of June, helped along by the forced removal of all foreign titles from Chinese screens from June 25. This is common practice in China when a big local title is debuted.

The Guardian noted that the supernatural thriller, starring the beautiful Zhou Xun, enjoyed “China’s third highest opening weekend ever.” The Titanic re-release in 3D earlier this year still holds the top spot (even if the film screened in China sans Kate Winslet’s breasts), but Painted Skin 2 is now apparently China’s “highest grossing local film of all time.”

Danwei provided a full round up of Chinese box office for the first half of 2012, and claimed Painted Skin 2 had taken RMB 216 million (around US$ 34 million).

Wu-Tang Clan’s Rza directs a martial arts movie

Last but certainly not least, Rza of the kung-fu loving US hip hop outfit Wu-Tang Clan has written and directed a swordplay epic set in China. The film, entitled The Man With the Iron Fists, is “presented” by Quentin Tarantino. I’m not sure what that means since he didn’t actually produce the film. In any case, it looks fun and very silly, and it’s slated for release in the US in November.

You can view the trailer here.

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