Berlin Film Festival: Zhang Yimou's 'One Second' Withdrawn From Competition

Director Zhang Yimou Great Wall Premiere - Getty - H 2017
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

A message from the film's official social media accounts in China said the title had been pulled for technical reasons, but Chinese industry insiders immediately began speculating about censorship issues at home in Beijing.

Celebrated Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou's much anticipated latest feature, One Second, was withdrawn from the Berlin International Film Festival on Monday.

"Because of a technical problem, One Second can not be shown at the Berlin festival," read a post that appeared on the film's official page on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media service. 

Indeed, the festival itself claimed in a statement that the film couldn't be shown due to "technical difficulties encountered during post-production."

"Due to technical difficulties encountered during post-production, Yi miao zhong (One Second) by Zhang Yimou unfortunately cannot be presented on February 15 in the scope of the Competition section of the Berlinale. The competition will thus feature a total of 16 films vying for the coveted Bear awards," the festival's statement reads.

Instead of One Second, the festival says it will screen Zhang's 2002 wuxia classic Hero on Feb. 15.

Talk within Chinese industry circles in Berlin immediately turned to speculation that the film had run into censorship issues at home in Beijing.

Based on a novel by Zhang's frequent collaborator Yan Geling, One Second had been dubbed the director's love letter to cinema. But the film is set during China's Cultural Revolution era — a politically sensitive period only an artist of Zhang's stature could even conceivably be permitted to broach. The film is said to follow a fugitive and a homeless girl who are drawn together by an enigmatic film reel.

"We hadn't been able to confirm the film's participation in Berlin for the past couple of days and had been waiting," a representative from Huanxi Media Group, the film's producer, told The Hollywood Reporter. "Now we have the confirmed news that it won't be in competition."

When asked about the reasons for the withdrawal of One Second, the company simply referred to the official statement on the film's social media accounts. 

Zhang’s film is the second Chinese title to be pulled from Berlin this year. Better Days, a drama about a disaffected youth, was yanked from Berlin's Generation section on the eve of the event's kickoff. The official line was that the film wasn't completed in time to get censorship approval, but sources within the Chinese industry told THR that content issues were to blame. 

Zhang is a veteran of the Berlin International Film Festival and expectations were high for One Second among critics and international film fans. The project is the director's first art house title in years, following more commercial vehicles like the Matt Damon-starring U.S. China co-production Great Wall and last year's martial arts film Shadow

Zhang's now classic debut feature, Red Sorghum, won the Golden Bear for best picture at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival in 1988.

6:17 a.m.: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Berlin Film Festival.