Film banned after footage of uncut version put on Net

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2008, 12:00am

Mainland censors have banned public screenings of the movie Lost in Beijing after 17 minutes of footage of rape and class conflict cut from the original version appeared on the internet.

The order, which came out on Thursday, prompted renewed calls for a film rating system on the mainland, with the movie's explicit sex scenes arousing almost the same controversies as those in Ang Lee's award-winning film Lust, Caution.

'The rating system should be released as soon as possible,' Lost in Beijing director Li Yu said. 'Otherwise, it's hard for our directors to know what the bottom line is. It would be good for both of us.'

The movie, starring Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Ka-fai and mainland beauty Fan Bingbing , shows the friction between the winners and losers in the country's booming economy by telling the story of a migrant worker trying to blackmail the boss of a foot massage parlour after finding out he had raped the worker's wife.

The 114-minute version was given a category III, adults-only rating in Hong Kong and had to be trimmed to 97 minutes for release on the mainland.

As was the case with Lust, Caution, the cut clips were quickly and widely spread on the internet.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) said the makers of the film illegally distributed unapproved and pornographic clips on the internet.

'The cinema version is clean, but we found the internet [clips] problem serious,' an administration official said.

Li denied releasing the cut footage. 'I have no idea how the clips came out,' she said.

The Sarft statement also criticised the filmmakers for flouting the censors' demands for cuts by submitting an unapproved version to compete in the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

Beijing Laurel Films, one of the major production companies involved in the film, would be barred from producing any new movies for the next two years, and its head, Fang Li , would be banned from any involvement in the film industry for the same period, Sarft said.

Mr Fang, the first film company president to be banned on the mainland, has been famous for producing critically acclaimed independent films such as Wang Chao's The Orphan of Anyang (2001) and Lou Ye's Summer Palace (2006). Both films were banned on the mainland for competing in the international film festivals without official approval

'I'll make realistic films again when I come back in two years' time,' the Southern Metropolis News quoted Mr Fang as saying.

The newspaper said Mr Fang was confused about the ban on Lost in Beijing, given that the company had made many revisions in line with Sarft requests. The changes delayed the film's mainland public debut from May to August and then to November 30.

But the ban is expected to have little influence on the box-office revenue of the low-budget Lost in Beijing, which has reportedly already brought in 17 million yuan during the past month.

Moreover, although Sarft has banned the film's broadcast and circulation online, it only suggested - not ordered - that related departments stop the distribution of its video products.

'There has been little impact. Ticket sales are good so far,' Li said.