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Chinese language cinema

China pulls Vietnam border war movie from cinema holiday line-up at last minute

Director Feng Xiaogang’s tribute to veterans withdrawn in lead-up to key Communist Party gathering, industry source says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 7:33pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 8:26pm

A movie tribute by one of China’s leading directors to Chinese veterans of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war has been pulled from cinemas after a last-minute “discussion”.

Director Feng Xiaogang’s movie Youth, or Fanghua, was scheduled to be released across China on September 29 in time for the weeklong National Day holiday.

But in a brief online statement on Sunday, Feng’s production house said the release date would be postponed as a result of “discussions with the film administration bureau and other relevant parties”.

“The new release date [of Youth] will be made public later on. We apologise to cinemas and viewers for any inconvenience caused,” the statement said.

The movie tells the story of a military dance troupe during the Cultural Revolution and China’s brief border war with Vietnam.

Ticket sales and promotion for the movie were already under way.

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Wang Zhonglei, president of Huayi Brothers Media, one of the movie’s backers, confirmed the film would not be screened during the National Day holidays.

Neither Feng’s studio nor Huayi Brothers gave a reason for the last-minute change.

Phone calls to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the agency overseeing the movie industry in China, went unanswered on Sunday.

A movie industry source said the film touched on many sensitive topics and the authorities did not want it aired right before the Communist Party gathered for its five-yearly national congress next month.

The congress is scheduled to start on October 18 and usher in a change of leadership at the top.

To ensure a smooth transition, the authorities will bar sensitive issues from the media, prevent protesters from entering Beijing, and shut down dozens of factories near the capital to minimise pollution.

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China’s big and small screens have been flooded over the years with productions about the country’s wars with Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, but there are few about the Sino-Vietnamese conflict.

Veterans have also repeatedly staged protests in Beijing over the past couple of years, demanding compensation from the government and better social welfare.

Dubbed the Steven Spielberg of China, Feng, 60, reportedly told his production team that he wanted Youth to be a tribute to the soldiers who fought in the border conflict.

“What I am trying to tell the audience is absolutely not about the power of war. I will not praise war. I want the audience to see the cruelty of war,” Dazhong Daily quoted Feng as saying on Friday.

Feng had reportedly given out 10,000 tickets to the movie, urging young people to see Youth with their parents. He hoped young people would not forget the lessons of history, learning to treasure peace and to understand their parents, Feng said on his microblog on Wednesday.

The movie’s withdrawal makes it two years in a row that one of Feng’s films has been pulled from screens for the National Day holidays. I Am Not Madame Bovary, a movie about petitioning in China, was withdrawn at the same time last year before being released in November.

Additional reporting by Catherine Wong