After Lengthy Ban, 'No Man's Land' Blasts Onto Chinese Screens

Jasper James
Dan Mintz

Once seen as "depraved" and "trashy," Ning Hao's edgy road thriller passes the censor's approval.

After years spent waiting for the censor to clear it, director Ning Hao's action-thriller road movie No Man's Land finally opened this week and made over $3.5 million at the box office on its opening day.

The strong performance continued on day two when it made $3.2 million (19.5 million yuan).

No Man's Land stars Xu Zheng, Huang Bo and Yu Nan and was produced by DMG Entertainment along with China Film Group. The movie was finished in April 2010.

In October, China's Film Bureau agreed to release the film three and a half years after it was originally supposed to hit theaters, with some censors making public comments critical of the movie, which is edgy by Chinese standards.

The movie tells of the adventures that befall a lawyer driving to the deserts in the far west of China, who meets a range of characters, including strippers, smugglers and murderers en route.

The movie combines elements from Chinese mythology, American westerns and modern black comedies, but remains an essentially Chinese movie.

"I am always trying to figure out how to catch and express China’s own national characteristics, something different from the American style," Hao told reporters.

The film reportedly did not find a fan in censor Zhao Baohua, a member of the film review board of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), who found the movie trashy and disliked its depiction of "depraved" individuals.

He also accused Hao of narcissism and forgetting his social responsibility as a film director.

DMG said the film took three years to find its way into Chinese cinemas for various reasons, something that DMG had anticipated early on.

"We always knew that this was going to be a challenge -- the movie is edgy and cool in a way that most Chinese films aren't," said Dan Mintz, DMG’s CEO and executive producer of the film.

"That meant a longer approval process, being prepared for that allowed us to focus on the end result -- a thoroughly enjoyable movie experience," said Mintz.

He said he was not surprised by the turnout and opening box office numbers.

"The long delay actually works in our favor, as the huge anticipation is clearly driving big box office returns," he said.

DMG has had a good run of hits in the past year or so, including Hollywood blockbuster films Iron Man 3 and Looper, as well as domestic hits Founding of a Republic and Go LaLa Go.

Wu Bing, president of DMG Entertainment, said the company's goal was to tell unique and entertaining stories for both international and Chinese audiences.

"Sometimes to do that you have to push the envelope and this movie certainly does that. We feel it represents a new wave of Chinese movies, and DMG is front and center leading the pack," she said.