In reverse order or, if you prefer, in ascending order of lunacy. Then again, one could quite easily reverse the reversal and still find ascending lunacy; such is the working of the cinematic overlord’s mind in China:
10. Seven Years in Tibet (1997) Jean-Jacque Annaud’s film dared to tell of the young Dalai Lama’s friendship with Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer and the brutality dished out by the new communist rulers of China after 1949. The truth hurts, especially in Beijing. So intense was China’s pain that in retribution stars Brad Pitt and David Thewlis are currently serving lifetime bans. Too bad nobody cares.
9. The Departed (2006) Martin Scorsese was already in China’s bad books for his biopic of the 14th Dalai Lama Kundun, and this film made the banned list for a passing reference to China’s purchasing of military equipment (damned if I can recall the scene). Setting aside Scorsese’s wanton disregard for state secrecy, how can anyone have a problem with a film starring Martin Sheen? Madness I tell you.
8. Brokeback Mountain (2005) Ang lee’s Oscar for his directing of homosexuality in a Stetson was celebrated (overlooking Lee’s Taiwanese status) in the Motherland as ‘China sticks it Uncle Sam in the imperialist’s own backyard’. After national pride subsided however, China banned the film for its portrayal of intra-masculine love. Perhaps the film’s theme hit a little too close to home for the boys at Zhongnanhai. More progressively, elsewhere in China the gay community is beginning to stand up.
7. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) In a petulant response that’s as ancient as the hills of Chinese history, Beijing took exception to what they considered a less than visually superlative portrayal of China. Jolie was so traumatised by this news that she sought solace in the arms of a fellow ‘enemy’ of China. I wonder if the Brangelina kids are banned by default?
6. Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) In a predictable move by censors that clearly have difficulty grasping the fundamentals of the cinematic medium and the roles of the actors bringing performances to our screens, China refused approval of Memoirs for Chinese audiences. It was felt that the sight of Ziyi Zhang and Gong Li giving satisfaction while playing Japanese women would induce national apoplexy in the Chinese populace. Go figure.
5. To Live (1994) Zhang Yimou’s widely acclaimed film is representative of the countless cinematic efforts that have touched upon the reality of life in China under Communist Party rule during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Our boys at HQ are as uncomfortable with accountability today as they were then. Consequently, To Live was banned and Zhang forced to write a formal apology. He also received a two year filmmaking ban for his honest portrayal of the trials of life during the Mao years. Long live the king.
4. Lost in Beijing (2007) As China careered towards Olympic infamy glory any depictions of Beijing that deviated from ‘gleaming modern metropolis’ were met with a clumsy swing of the jack boot from the censors. Thus, Li Yu’s wonderfully evocative and moving low budget film was first heavily cut and then pulled completely. Unsurprisingly, but with unequivocal thuggish petulance, authorities further punished producer Fang Li and Laurel Films with a two-year ban. Somebody needs to remind SARFT that there exists a relationship between progress in the arts and the advance of civilisation.
3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) Not banned in China but certainly tinkered with, despite the lack of laundry on a Shanghai washing line to complain about. China’s real problem with the movie is the paranoid perception of an undercurrent of American technological hegemony and military propaganda. Those boys really could do with a good night out, as could the author of the China Youth Daily op-ed (translation) and those who share the view of dark imperialistic deeds. Or even those that just like the idea. Alternatively, they could just try to reverse engineer a Transformer in their spare time and sell it to the PLA. Problem solved.
2. Lust, Caution (2008) Another Ang Lee film upsetting Chinese sensibilities, but this time Beijing authorities (authority on what exactly isn’t clear) took exception to Tang Wei’s portrayal of a student activist who falls in love with a collaborator during the Japanese occupation. For that cinematic sin Tang was accused of ‘glorifying traitors and insulting patriots‘. In an act of sheer malice authorities banned the media from any mention or image of Tang Wei, and, taking their lead, the fenqing did the rest.
1. Ten Conditions of Love (2008) Jeff Daniels’ film tells the story of Rebiya Kadeer, who looks set to displace the Dalai Lama as China’s number one terrorist in exile. It’s OK to laugh; in fact, I encourage it. The ongoing Uighur furore is causing ruptured spleens throughout the Beijing hierarchy as Melbourne prepares to screen the film in what is sure to be a blaze of publicity. Strictly speaking the film is not banned from Chinese cinemas because I doubt that any application for approval has been submitted. There’s a reason for that. It’s the same reason that the Chinese government descends into adolescent tantrum whenever freedom of expression presents a view of the world contrary to the output of its propaganda department. I’m not the only one who finds this trend tiresome. My confidence in China’s ability to exercise restraint during the Melbourne festival, much less respect the rights of free expression outside its borders, is not high. Rebiya Kadeer has the right to be heard – she’s certainly not a terrorist – and Jeff Daniels’ film has a right to be screened and viewed. I urge Beijing to get used to those ideas.