Zhang Yimou’s latest film, ONE SECOND (一秒鐘), has been abruptly pulled from the Berlin Film Festival just ahead of its planned world premiere on Friday.
At 7:00 pm Monday, local time, the film’s official Weibo account wrote: “Due to technical reasons, ONE SECOND cannot be screened at the Berlin Film Festival. Apologies.” According to film trade press, the festival explained that the film has been withdrawn because post-production could not be completed on time.
Coincidentally, it was the same reason given for the abrupt withdrawal of Derek Tsang’s BETTER DAYS (少年的你) from the festival’s Generation section last week.
Keen observers may notice that “technical reasons” (技術原因) is a popular buzz word used when local or festival premieres of Chinese films are canceled at the last minute. It was used in 2014 when the local premiere of Jiang Wen’s GONE WITH THE BULLETS (一步之遥) was abruptly canceled. Last April, the theatrical release of local horror film THE POSSESSED (中邪) was delayed due to the same reason. It was also used when early local previews of Jia Zhangke’s ASH IS PUREST WHITE (江湖兒女) was also canceled abruptly just as Feng Xiaogang, who has a small role in the film, was rumored to be involved in the Fan Bingbing tax evasion scandal. Local media say that Feng was subsequently edited out of the local release version of the film, though he appeared in the version screened last October at the Busan International Film Festival.
Set during the Cultural Revolution, ONE SECOND is about a labor camp escapee and an orphan girl brought together by a newsreel. Edko Films is handling sales outside the Greater China region.
While the Cultural Revolution remains a sensitive topic in China, this is not the first time Zhang has told stories from the era. COMING HOME (歸來), which was previously shown in Cannes out of competition, is about a man returning home to an amnesiac wife after being released from labor camp. TO LIVE (活著) follows a family that survives the Cultural Revolution. Though it was banned from theatrical release in China, pirated copies can be seen on certain Chinese video streaming sites.
According to local laws, Chinese films must pass local censorship and receive a screening license (nicknamed “Dragon Mark”) before screening overseas.
Lou Ye’s THE SHADOW PLAY (風中有朵雨做的雲), which is playing in the Panorama section at this year’s Berlinale, was reportedly dogged by censorship issues after it was completed in 2017. However, the film competed in last year’s Golden Horse Awards, and an almost-completed version was screened at the festival alongside a feature-length documentary on the making of the film. At one of the Golden Horse screenings, producer Nai An dodged a question about the film’s censorship process during the Q&A.
Interestingly, Edison Chen, who has a minor, but pivotal role in the film, appears only in a brief shot, while the rest of his dialogue is only heard off-screen.
Nevertheless, THE SHADOW PLAY is currently slated for release on April 4th in Chinese cinemas.