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Chinese war film cancels premiere in apparent censorship

The premiere of Chinese war epic “The Eight Hundred” has been cancelled, an apparent result of censorship after an association of retired party cadres deemed it “inappropriate” ahead of Communist China’s 70th anniversary.

Hailed as the Chinese “Dunkirk”, the film details a story of a Chinese army unit fighting against Japanese invaders in the 1937 Battle of Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

After consultation between the production team and other parties, the July 5 premiere was cancelled and will not be released this summer, according to a statement posted on Tuesday on the film’s Weibo account, a Twitter like platform.

“The new release date will be announced at a later time,” the statement said, without explaining the reasons behind the decision.

The movie had already been abruptly yanked from the Shanghai International Film Festival earlier this month due to “technical issues” — a term often used as a euphemism for censorship.

The abrupt cancellation of the premiere fuelled speculation about the motives on social media.

“The film industry cannot go on like this,” Chinese film director Jia Zhangke wrote on Weibo.

Five days before the film was removed from the festival, the Chinese Red Culture Research Association held an academic seminar on filmmaking in which the storyline of “The Eight Hundred” was criticised because it glorifies the heroic role of Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang).

The Kuomintang eventually lost the civil war that led to the Communist Party’s triumph and creation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

The Eight Hundred

A poster and still from “The Eight Hundred”. Photo: Apple Daily.

The film is very “inappropriate” to be regarded as a tribute to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the PRC, according to a report on the website of the association cited by Chinese media.

The Chinese Red Culture Research Association, which is managed by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, bills itself as a volunteer organisation that promotes the Communist Party’s history. Most of its members are retired party cadres and writers.

“It makes use of fragments of history to cover up the essence of history. It seriously violates the historical facts of the Kuomintang’s resistance,” the report added. “That should not be encouraged.”

The original report has been taken down from the association’s website for unknown reasons.

“The Eight Hundred” is produced by the Huayi Brothers and directed by Guan Hu, who spent 10 years filming it.

The Eight Hundred

A still from “The Eight Hundred”. Photo: Huayi Weibo.

The first Chinese film shot entirely on digital IMAX cameras reportedly spent more than US$80 million in production costs.

Censorship has increased in China since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012. The most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong has sought to whip up patriotic sentiment in the country.

Other films have recently faced setbacks.

Zhang Yimou’s film “One Second” — set during China’s politically sensitive Cultural Revolution — was pulled from the Berlin Film Festival in February.

The Chinese youth drama “Better Days”, which contains a scene of violent bullying, said on Monday it would cancel its release in China just three days before the film was to hit theatres.

It had already been removed at the last minute from the Berlin Film Festival in February as well.


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Chinese war film cancels premiere in apparent censorship