Jackie Chan, artists launch tirade against film censorship during CPPCC meeting
Authorities urged to allow artistic freedom after delegates spot censorship clause in work report
What was meant to be a run-of-the-mill panel discussion on the government’s work report among art experts in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s (CPPCC) turned into a grumbling session this week, as personalities like actor Jackie Chan and award-winning filmmaker Feng Xiaogang criticised censorship in the country.
Feng urged the authorities to give directors more freedom, saying: “Don’t make directors tremble with fear every day like [they’re] walking on thin ice.”
Feng quoted a section of the central government’s work report – delivered by Premier Li Keqiang – as “clearly” saying, “We will cancel or delegate to lower-level governments an additional 200-plus items requiring State Council review and approval.”
“Who do you think this message is for?” Feng said at the meeting at Beijing International Hotel. “For the State Film Administration and those who conduct censorship as well.”
“We don’t have a ‘film censorship law’; to kill a film or not depends on examiners. Is their patriotism, political judgment and artistic taste better than ours, the directors?" he said.
“We, as directors, on one hand have to rack our brains to cope with the authorities. On the other hand, we also need to ingratiate ourselves with [the] consensus. Exhausted!”
Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong delegate to the CPPCC and a good friend of Feng, said: “I know there’s a risk to saying this, but I don’t care now, because it seems normal that I speak inappropriately.”
If a movie is heavily censored, cutting all the “sharp edges and corners”, its box-office performance will suffer drastically, Chan said, adding that it had disastrous results for its investors and producers.
“I have a couple of director friends [who went] bankrupt because of poor box-office results,” said Chan.
“Last year, China box office earnings reached 21.7 billion yuan (HK$27.5 billion), in which 17.1 billion [yuan] was from domestic movies.
"Within five to six years, China will be the biggest market. However, if Chinese films don’t take marketisation seriously, it will hardly have the chance to surpass Hollywood.”
Feng mentioned his films Assembly (2007) and Aftershock (2010) as examples of work that had to be modified to suit the censors’ wishes.
Assembly was almost banned as authorities thought it aggrandised war sacrifice, while Aftershock was criticised as capitalising on the 1976 earthquake tragedy in Tangshan city, Hebei province.
The discussion on Wednesday was recorded by a reporter for Japan’s Kyodo News Agency and published on his personal blog.
Encouraged by Feng’s outburst, comedian and TV star Song Dandan also set aside political considerations and attacked the declining quality of Chinese television shows as studios focused more on ratings.
“China has around 2,000 TV channels. To get a higher rating, many produce shoddy shows. Some even fake the ratings,” Song said. “If this continues, Chinese TV production will be worthless.”
Actor Zhang Guoli tried to shift the attention back to the report and started talking about Premier Li Keqiang mentioning the importance of “cultural construction”.
But Feng interrupted Zhang, calling for a “big loosening” of the state’s grip.
“So what Guoli means is that blasting the White House, having bad guys among the police – these are all acceptable to authorities because capitalism is chaotic,” the director said.
“However, Chinese movies can’t follow it because we don’t have violence and absolutely no bad guys among police. Chinese directors can’t bring shame on China,” said Feng, eliciting laughter from the delegates.
However, if directors are to work within the government’s parameters, the filmmaker suggested eliminating one of two steps in the censorship process, by simply screening the final cut instead of vetting the scripts as well.
He also called for close monitoring of the progress of the premier’s work report. “We can’t just appraise how good this report is. The key is to see whether it can be implemented,” Feng said.