Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen has been banned from making films for seven years by the Chinese Film Bureau. His film Devils At The Doorstep (Guizi Lai Le), about China during the time of Japanese occupation, was judged as insufficiently patriotic.
Jiang, who starred in several films by Zhang Yimou and turned director with 1994's In The Heat Of The Sun (Yangguang Canlan De Rizi), is banned from appearing on film or TV for seven years and is not allowed to direct or produce. Dong Ping, who executive produced the film, receives a two year ban and is to have his name removed from Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which he co-produced.
Devils, which won the Grand Prix at this year's Cannes festival, was also denied a certificate allowing its release in mainland China. As a knock-on effect, the Chinese release of Crouching Tiger - which does have a certificate - has also now been postponed.
"It is a terrible shame that the Chinese people will not now see this fantastic film," said Wouter Barendrecht of the picture's international representative Fortissimo Film Sales.
According to news agency reports the Chinese authorities argue that the film "seriously distorts Chinese history," and is not sufficiently patriotic. Apparently the Chinese soldiers do not hate the Japanese army enough and too much time is given to the Japanese national anthem and national flag: "Demonstrating the power of the Japanese army this way hurts the feelings of the Chinese people." The film was also qualified as vulgar for showing a donkey on heat.
The Bureau has also called for the return of copies from abroad, though this seems unlikely. "The film was post-produced abroad and the masters are outside China," said Barendrecht. "I hope my reputation is such that nobody expects me to co-operate on that front."
While the Bureau does not have an appeal system all may not be lost. An Agence France Press report quoted Jiang as estimating the chances of getting the film released - albeit after cuts and a change of name - at 50%. "China has made progress over the last 20 years in terms of reform and openness, but ideology is still behind the rest of the world."
Cuts are on the cards anyway. Barendrecht said that he is holding off completing further foreign sales until the film has been screened at Toronto with some 20 minutes removed. "At the moment it is 2h47mins, distributors would ideally like it at 2h15." Completed sales include those to Ocean Films in France and Tube Investments for Korea. While there are offers on the table from most major territories including the US, Japan and Italy, the ban all but rules out a sale to Hong Kong.
The bans come in the same week as the Chines authorities said that it would increase, from 40 a year to 50, the number of films from the West that will be allowed distribution in China. Recent history is littered with example of turbulent relations between China and its directors. Zhang Yimou was prevented from travelling to Cannes and later to the Oscars with his film Shanghai Triad after making a controversial documentary about the Tiananmen Square massacre. In 1993 Tian Zhuangzhuang was banned from film-making for directing The Blue Kite. Jiang previously ran foul of the authorities with Heat Of The Sun and was banned from travelling to Taipei in 1996 where the film won six Golden Horse awards.