Major Chinese Film Awards Refuses to Name Best Picture

Jia Zhangke

China Directors' Guild chairman Feng Xiaogang said the artistic quality of recent local films was too low to honor, a move some are interpreting as a protest against the government's refusal to screen Jia Zhangke's Cannes winner "A Touch of Sin."

The 2014 China Film Directors' Guild Awards refused to hand out a prize in the best picture or best director categories in Beijing Wednesday night because the artistic quality of the films in contention was too low to deserve honor, according to jury chairman Feng Xiaogang.

“China needs to get back its art. Right now, we don’t need to pat ourselves on the back, we need to set a higher standard,” Feng said at the packed ceremony, which was held in the newly built Director's Guild building in Beijing and broadcast live on CCTV 6, the state broadcaster’s movie channel.

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“The whole jury agreed to leave the award vacant, and this is a unique action from the Directors’ Guild,” said the celebrated director of Aftershock and Back to 1942, who is often referred to as "China’s Spielberg." 

A notable absence from the films in competition was Jia Zhangke's A Touch of Sin, which had been nominated but was withdrawn at the last minute as it failed to pass censorship in time. 

While there were no explicit references during the ceremony, the decision not to award the best director and best film honors is being interpreted by some insiders as a form of protest against the government's decision not allow the movie to screen in general release in China. Jia's critically celebrated film touches on many politically sensitive themes including corruption, economic inequality, prostitution and growing violence in China. It won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival last May. 

In an interview with before the event, guild president Li Shaohong explained that since A Touch of Sin has neither reached theaters nor been officially released on DVD, it was disallowed from competing for the awards.

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"The judges need to be able to get together [to view a DVD] or at least watch the film online, but A Touch of Sin is unable to be viewed in either of these two ways. So after much discussion and deep regret we declined the company's [Beijing Xihe Xinghui Pictures] application. I expect to see more of Jia's work in the future," said Li.

Feng has on many occasions complained that censorship stifles creativity in China and leads to an unequal playing field for Chinese filmmakers when competing with Hollywood.

In his remarks Wednesday he focused on the broader issue of the artistic quality of Chinese films, which he said is declining, urging his fellow directors to concentrate on raising the standard.

"Right now, we should regain the ideal, reshape the spirit and return to the art itself in film. This is the goal that China film directors can’t afford to miss,” said Feng.

“As the China film industry develops, box office has increased dramatically. The wolves of Hollywood came but didn’t devour us. Instead, we danced with the wolves, which created the prosperity of the Chinese film market,” he said.

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In the run-up to the event, Feng said the guild awards were his favorite because they are judged completely by filmmakers.

The event was attended by numerous industry A-listers including leading directors Jiang Wen and Wang Xiaoshuai, as well as actors Ge You and Xu Jinglei and filmmaker Wen Jun.

The best actor prize from the guild, which has 317 members, went to Xu Zheng for Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, while Tang Wei won best actress for Xue Xiaolu’s Finding Mr Right.

“From the first day I became an actress, I knew I’d have to have a thousand faces for a thousand different roles. I want to try many different parts and I am willing to give myself fully to the directors,” said Tang, who is best known internationally for her steamy role in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.