With all the talk about how his latest film, Spring Fever, will be received by mainland authorities, Lou Ye seems remarkably unfazed. 'I'm still quite free to be here, aren't I?' he says in Cannes, where the film will be screened in competition as part of the French city's annual film festival.
Or maybe it's going to be deja vu again. Lou was barred from making films for two years after he screened Suzhou River at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2000 without clearing the censors; he was then hit with a five-year ban in 2006 when he brought his last film, Summer Palace, to Cannes without getting approval from the authorities.
It's hardly a surprise that Summer Palace gave Lou a rough ride: the film was partly set in Beijing during the pro-democracy summer of 1989.
Spring Fever - a co-production between a French company and the new Hong Kong subsidiary of Lou's Beijing film company - contains vivid sex scenes between its gay protagonists, in a story about two love triangles when a man leaves his wife or girlfriend to be with another man. Even without the ban, Lou would have found it difficult to get official approval for his film as it touches on homosexuality, which remains largely a no-go area for the culturally conservative apparatchiks in Beijing.
How is the underlying creative motive behind Spring Fever different from your previous films? I just want to tell a love story - it's the same as before. This time I want to tell a modern-day story which has some sort of a link with history - just as you can see, the [Chinese] film title takes its name from [a 1923 story by Chinese writer] Yu Dafu. My two previous films have been linked with things past: The Purple Butterfly is set in the 1930s, while Summer Palace is about China in the 1980s.
I wanted to tell a story which, like Yu's, looks at individuals, not just ciphers, such as good and bad people, gay and straight people - the film is not meant to be like that; it's to begin from a more human perspective. And it's about how different human beings conduct their lives in a state of freedom.
Do you think the country is freer than, say, in the times of The Purple Butterfly or Summer Palace? Of course it's freer than in the past. But our modern times also have their share of problems. And a major problem is how people do not confront issues from an individual point of view. People tend to be worried that if they tell a personal story [in their artistic work], it would be wrong. There's a period in modern Chinese history in which the individual gave way to the collective - but maybe it's not just China, maybe it's happened around the world. Just like how people are seen as leftists or rightists - probably what it's like here in France. It's not always that clear-cut.
So you are suspicious of all these labels on people? I don't like it when people attach terms to others before they even try to understand the people they are talking about. For example, if you were to dub me a 'banned director', I would be very annoyed.
But a lot of people do perceive you through the prism of your run-ins with the government. I feel especially bad about that. [The attention] is not what I wanted - what I have wanted from the start is to make movies.
So a lot of problems remain on the mainland for directors, don't they? Of course there are problems, but it's about how we face them. For example, the way the authorities unleash these bans on filmmakers, it's against the Chinese constitution.
How do you deal with it? I just want the freedom to make films my own way. I don't have plans to do anything and I can't change the situation. I'm just a film director and I just want to make my own films. Have you been in talks with the authorities about your predicament? We have had conversations about this. For example, on November 13, 2003, a group of independent filmmakers held talks with film officials about our concerns - it's just that nothing was followed up from that. And I tried to communicate with them myself, but they just cut off the dialogue by banning me from making films.
I don't have time to struggle with them about such things. I'm just a director and I don't have control over a lot of things. I believe a director should have the right to make the films he wants - if he can't, then there's a big problem there.