Wed, Oct 11, 2017 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Chiu Fu-sheng’s vanity film ended up making history

The 1989 historical drama ‘A City of Sadness,’ set against the backdrop of the 228 Massacre, was the first Taiwanese film to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the lifting of martial law on July 15, 1987, ‘A City of Sadness’ producer Chiu Fu-sheng told Lan Tsu-wei of the ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) how he was almost jailed over the film and how he obtained the approval of the censors

At the time I thought to myself: As martial law has been lifted, then the restrictions on film topics must also be lifted. Simply discussing the landing of the Nationalist army in Keelung would not be very interesting, the 228 Incident had to be discussed for the film to be worth making.

Many people within my circle told me to be cautious, but I told them I was not calling for a revolution and I was not discussing national secrets or something of the sort. I was simply telling a story of that period of history, told from the perspective of one family’s misfortune.

Furthermore, screenwriter Chu Tien-wen’s (朱天文) father grew up during that period of political struggle; Hou is a waishengren (外省人, Mainlander) and grew up in Kaohsiung’s Fengshan (鳳山); and the film’s production crew was comprised of both benshengren (本省人, people who came to Taiwan before World War II) and waishengren.

The 228 Incident-related content discussed in the film was reasonable and acceptable to everyone involved in the film. I think what the film was trying to portray was how all Taiwanese families got through the 228 Incident — it was trying to play on ethnic sensitivities.

When the censors looked at A City of Sadness, they were pleased with it. They only asked that I remove the gunshot sounds representing executions, which I immediately refused.

At about that time I received word from a reporter in Venice who told me the film had a good chance of winning a big award, which made the Government Information Office nervous.

Then-office deputy director Liao Cheng-hau (廖正豪) tried to persuade me to remove the gunshot sounds, but as Hou was already on his way to Venice, I got his agent, Chan Hung-chih (詹宏志), involved.

Even from a young age I was like the angry youth of today, and in that moment I told Liao that I was not in a position to demand that the director cut the gunshots from his film. Martial law had already been lifted at that point and it was my opinion that leaving the film uncut should be part of creative freedom.

LT: Did then-office director Shao Yu-ming (邵玉銘) almost lose his position for his decision not to ban the screening of A City of Sadness?

Chiu: Shao told me afterward that he was almost fired from his job because of the decision.

At the time, the office would often ask experts or civilians to participate in a review when it had to make a decision on sensitive issues; it was in essence lending the film credibility through a consensus of multiple individuals.

Shao had been very careful and even asked 30 people to make the review, all of them agreeing that the film adhered to standards.

Then-premier Lee Huan’s (李煥) secretary-general, Wang Chao-ming (王昭明), criticized Shao for bending the rules, saying that he, too, could find 30 people that would reach a unanimous “banned screening” rating for the film. In any case, the film did not receive an official license for screening until it won the award in Venice.

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