Censors wield the scissor freely in China

The Beijing International Film Festival ((BIFF) is a comparatively new festival compared to its counterpart in Shanghai. But it has had its share of controversies.

As the 3rd BIFF opened on Tuesday at The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest in the Temple of Heaven Park, the silhouette of the impressive stage was darkened by the unexpected controversy over the pulling out of Tarantino’s Django Unchained last week from across theatres in China.

No explanation was offered and movie-goers were left with no option but to pour their anger on social networking websites.

The decision to abruptly pull the movie out revealed once again that the fate of a movie is completely in the hands of the censors in China.

In March, state media had triumphantly announced that the movie – the first Tarantino movie to be shown on the mainland — will be released in China.

Reports said the director might be in Beijing to interact with the audience. “Some bloody scenes may be cut from the film,” Beijing News had reported.

But the pulling out was more surprising as Tarantino had agreed to himself edit some minutes of violence before the film was released in China. It appeared that the film had got the blessings of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) which monitors and censors content on all three mediums according to government policy.

And surprisingly, it initially appeared that Django had escaped the fate of the Wachowski siblings’ fantasy movie, Cloud Atlas; at least 38 minutes were chopped off before the movie could be screened in China.

Even superspy Bond could not escape the tryst with the censors in China without coming out bloodied.

The government has been sending mixed signals to the movie industry. Only recently, and again without any explanation, it lifted the ban on IMDB, the online movie data base.

And earlier this month, the government opened, for the first time, the historic Forbidden City for a party to welcome Robert Downey Jr who was in Beijing to promote his movie, Iron Man 3.

“Robert, who turned 48 on April 4, was handed a card featuring 5,339 fans signatures at the Forbidden City in Beijing, where he was attending the red carpet gala for super hero sequel Iron Man 3,” according to the Guinness Book of Records website which said it was a world record. Of course, the case for the red carpet could be that the movie has been tailored to suit the Chinese market.

Then came the pulling out of Django Unchained from theatres without any explanation. It has indeed cast a shadow over the film festival; it puts a question mark on the spirit of free expression that’s expected to blow across film festivals.

Of course, some domestic directors and actors have had worse experiences. Four of the six films by director Lou Ye, 47, are domestically banned. They include the Summer Palace which had the Tiananmen student uprising as its background.

Not only Lou, his heroine in the movie, Hao Lei, was also banned from acting for several years.

Both have made a return only recently after the government allowed them to work in China. But in between, Lou managed to take one of his banned films to Cannes.

In another case, critically acclaimed actress Tang Wei was banned for years by the censors for role in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. She took time out to go to an acting school abroad and only recently has rebooted her acting career in China.

But even the most sincere censors can slip.

As it happened at the screening of Hindi film Rockstar at the BIFF on Tuesday. The uncut film, according to a report in The Hindu newspaper, showed the “snow lion” flag, a symbol of Tibetan independence, during a song picturised on Ranbir Kapoor.

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