Two gritty domestic films were expected to dominate cineplexes across China this summer: The Eight Hundred and Better Days . But not any more. The Eight Hundred , Guan Hu’s military epic that depicts a five-day battle between Chinese and Japanese soldiers in Shanghai during World War II, was withdrawn from last month’s Shanghai International Film Festival and its commercial release, scheduled for July 5, has been cancelled . Why? Because a state-backed organisation called the Chinese Red Culture Research Association had criticised the film for playing up the real-life heroics of the Kuomintang-led army in the 1930s. Hong Kong actor-director Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung’s Better Days , a rite-of-passage melodrama starring Zhou Dongyu and Jackson Yee, has been pulled, too, just months after being withdrawn from what would have been a high-profile premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. The Hong Kong-mainland co-production had been scheduled for release at the end of last month. Reports cite Chinese censors’ disapproval of scenes featuring violence and delinquency among its young characters as the reason for the cancellations. With authorities keen to present China to the world in the best light possible in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic, apparatchiks have gone overboard in their efforts to erase on-screen moral ambiguity or social fatalism of any kind. Another example of the lengths to which officials will go to enforce a politically correct narrative is Tian Yusheng’s The Last Wish , scheduled for release on July 18. Revolving around two high-school students’ mission to help a friend who has been diagnosed with a fatal disease to lose his virginity before he dies, the raunchy comedy’s original Chinese title, Wei Da De Yuan Wang (“The Great Wish”), was changed to Xiao Xiao De Yuan Wang (“The Tiny Wish”), with producers explaining the last-minute change by saying how “even the tiniest wish could be a great one”. It is believed, however, that the “correction” was down to pressure from above. Apparently, the word “great” can be accorded only to China’s paramount leaders or their inventions. Hong Kong film industry gets major breakthrough with mainland China deal So what will fill the void left in mainland cinema schedules by Better Days ? Enter Hong Kong director Herman Yau Lai-to’s White Storm 2: Drug Lords. Starring Louis Koo Tin-lok and Andy Lau Tak-wah as rival mobsters trying to annihilate each other on the streets of Hong Kong, the narco-thriller – also a Hong Kong-mainland co-production – features criminals aplenty. Rest assured, the baddies will get their comeuppance: the ending goes hand in hand with a publicity blitz that resembles an official educational campaign, with Koo and Lau filming advertisements decrying the negative impact of drugs on society. Their efforts have paid off. Originally slated for a July 19 release in the mainland – which would have led to a clash with Xu Haofeng’s martial arts epic The Hidden Sword (which premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2017 but is only now being released commercially) – White Storm 2 was brought forward by two weeks to fill the slot vacated by Better Days . With mainland productions still shackled by censorship issues – Zhang Yimou’s Cultural Revolution drama One Second , which was dropped from this year’s Berlin film festival , is still nowhere to be seen – and the fallout from the clampdown on tax evasion in the Chinese film industry, Hong Kong filmmakers have gained ground during the annual summer blackout period, when Hollywood blockbusters are kept off screens to give Chinese-language films a better chance. Chinese film industry coughs up US$1.7 billion in back taxes after Fan Bingbing scandal triggers crackdown Originally set to clash with The Eight Hundred , Fruit Chan Gor’s Hong Kong-mainland co-production The Invincible Dragon got a clear run at the box office when it opened in the mainland on July 2. On July 12, Alan Yuen Kam-lunwill end his six-year directorial hiatus with The Rookies , a China-financed caper starring Milla Jovovich and Taiwanese actors Darren Wang Da-lu and Sandrine Pinna. Adding to this are the appearances by veteran Hong Kong actors in Chinese productions. Shaw Brothers action star Chen Kuan-tai, for example, is in The Hidden Sword while The Legend of Pig Warrior , a farcical romance drama centred on an animated porcine fighter, features Eric Tsang Chi-wai and Tin Kai-man. Tsang’s son Derek seems to be the only Hongkonger losing out in all this. But with uncertainty looming over the Chinese film industry, it is hard to tell who the winners and losers will be until the officials cast their loaded dice.