Chinese filmmakers must fight censorship even if it means removing their name from their own work, one-time banned Chinese director Lou Ye (婁燁) told reporters ahead of this month’s Asian Film Awards.
His crime thriller Mystery (浮城謎事) has been nominated in six categories at this year’s awards. Lou’s film — his second since he was banned from filming in China for five years in 2006 — tackles the subject of a new breed of wealthy and middle-income men in post-socialist China for whom taking a mistress is the norm, in a practice harking back to imperial China.
With nominations including best film, best director and best actress for Hao Lei’s (郝蕾), portrayal of a betrayed wife, Mystery begins with a violent death and tells the story of one man’s double life.
“The film is about a very small group of people. It is about what happens between two women, the double life that this man leads, but through this I get to talk about things that happen in wider society,” he said in Paris.
According to Lou, having a mistress is now commonplace in China for anyone with sufficient means. He said it was seen as a status symbol for men while a woman acting in the same way would be stigmatized.
The film is his second since the end of the ban imposed after he took his love story Summer Palace (頤和園), set around the taboo subject of the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests, to the Cannes Film Festival without official approval.
Lou responded by continuing to work, filming his next feature, Spring Fever (春風沉醉的夜晚), in secret using a handheld camera, as well as Love and Bruises (花), which came out after the ban expired.
Although he is now able to film in China again, Lou remains the subject of unwanted attention from censors.
After submitting the script for Mystery, Lou waited for five months for a response.
Authorization was given, but demands for last-minute changes followed. Although the changes were described as “minimal” by Lou, he still regards them as unacceptable.
“I used social networks in China to tell everyone that they were demanding modifications and I entered into a dialogue with the censors and in the end came up with something that was satisfactory,” he said.
Lou urges all filmmakers to play their part in ensuring an end to the power of the censor.
“All directors have a responsibility for the fact that censorship continues today in China,” he said.
His next film is an adaptation of a novel by Bi Feiyu (畢飛宇) about blind masseurs which he hopes to finish this year.
“I hope that for my next film, my name will be on the screen,” he said.
The Asian Film Awards will be held in Hong Kong on March 18.