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Hong Kong actor/director Jackie Chan and leading mainland Chinese director Feng Xiaogang made passionate pleas for less censorship of their films in China at a high-level Communist Party meeting in Beijing.
China’s annual rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, is taking place in the Chinese capital right now, and the two men are among a number of top industry figures on an advisory body to the parliament, called the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s (CPPCC).
Chan, whose action thriller Police Story 2013 recently topped the box office charts in China, is a Hong Kong delegate at the event, and he was unusually forthright in criticizing censorship.
“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 as quoted by the South China Morning Post.
The comments are a little surprising coming from Chan as he generally tends to toe the party line on cultural matters, and he has angered people in Hong Kong by saying that they complain too much about China and talk too much about getting more democracy.
Chan said that censorship had disastrous results for its investors and producers.
“I have a couple of director friends [who went] bankrupt because of poor box-office results,” he said. “Last year, China box office earnings reached 21.7 billion yuan ($3.6 billion), of which 17.1 billion ($2.8 billion) was from domestic movies. Within five to six years, China will be the biggest market. However, if Chinese films don’t take marketization seriously, it will hardly have the chance to surpass Hollywood.”
He was speaking after his friend and colleague Feng, who directed movies like the recent box office success, Personal Tailor, as well as Cellphone and Assembly, and who last November immortalized his hands and feet in cement at TCL Chinese Theatre, called for more clarity in how censorship was applied.
“Don’t make directors tremble with fear every day like [they’re] walking on thin ice,” Feng told a gathering on the fringes of the CPPCC in the Beijing International Hotel.
Feng generally steers clear of directly criticizing the ruling Communist Party in his work, but he has, on many occasions, used public platforms to complain about the difficult censorship environment for filmmakers.
His complaints about censorship have become almost an annual event at the parliamentary meeting in Beijing.
Referring to a speech given by Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday, Feng made a passionate plea for more clarity on how censorship is wielded — filmmakers often complain about the arbitrary nature of how bans are introduced, as there is no specific set of rules.
“We don’t have a ‘film censorship law’; to kill a film or not depends on (film) examiners. Is their patriotism, political judgment and artistic taste better than ours, the directors?” he asked.
“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!”
He said Assembly in 2007 and Aftershock in 2010 had to be changed to suit the censors’ demands — indeed, Assembly was nearly banned as the Film Bureau thought it glorified blood sacrifice in war.
Actor Zhang Guoli, who was also on the panel, tried to turn the conversation away from censorship, but Feng interjected with a call 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,” he 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,” Feng said, to the laughter of delegates.
He suggested getting rid of script approval from the process, and leaving censorship only at the final cut.
The NPC gives rubber-stamp approval to policy drafts that have already been hammered out and approved by the Communist Party’s senior leadership in closed-door meetings.
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