Lou Ye, the Chinese director twice banned for screening his work at overseas film festivals without securing official approval, is expected to appear at the Cannes Film Festival next month with his first officially sanctioned film in nine years.
Financed by his own production outfit, Dream Factory, and also by French company Les Films du Lendemain, Mystery will premiere in the festival's A Certain Regard section. It will be Lou's first production since the end of the five-year filmmaking ban he received in 2006 for submitting his film, Summer Palace, to Cannes despite not getting an all-clear from mainland censors.
The filming of Mystery, set in Wuhan , Hubei , received the green light from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. But it is yet to be seen whether the censors approve the final product - and whether officials consider its story, about a sacked policeman's investigation into a powerful businessman's role in a woman's death, to be too close to the recent high-profile Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun scandal for comfort.
Lou's last film to receive official approval from state censors was 2003's Purple Butterfly, starring international film star Zhang Ziyi .
While the censors never explained why they refused Lou's Summer Palace a screening licence in 2006, critics have pointed to the film's depiction of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 as a likely reason for the official disapproval.
Lou had already incurred the censors' wrath with his first film, 1995's Weekend Lover, which remains banned on the mainland today. The director himself was banned from making films for two years when he screened his second film, Suzhou River, at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2000 without getting governmental consent.
However, during his latest five-year ban, Lou still made two films: Spring Fever, a wasted-youth romance that won the best-screenplay prize at Cannes in 2009, and Love and Bruises, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival last year, about the violent relationship between a French man and a Chinese woman in a working-class Paris neighbourhood.
Lou circumvented the ban by registering Spring Fever, shot in China, as a Hong Kong-French production, while Love and Bruises was made primarily with French funds.
Ironically, the enfant terrible might find himself the lone flag-bearer for mainland Chinese cinema at Cannes this year. Mystery was the only mainland production included in the lineup announced at the festival's official press conference in Paris yesterday.
Lu Chuan's The Last Supper, a big-budget period epic about the rivalry between 2nd century BC warlords Liu Bang and Xiang Yu , was widely tipped for a berth but didn't appear on the shortlist.
The box office returns, in yuan, which mainland cinemas took last year, a jump of about 30 per cent from 2010