BEIJING (Hollywood Reporter) - In a rare compromise, Chinese government censors gave “Lost in Beijing” -- a movie they banned just last week -- “conditional approval” to go to this month’s Berlin International Film Festival if director Li Yu cuts 15 minutes dealing with rape and class conflict from her film, producer Fang Li said on Tuesday.
Paris-based Films Distribution, which is selling the title at the European Film Market, said it will screen the movie uncut to buyers in Berlin no matter what happens.
“The director, producer and seller confirm that there will be a screening of the director’s cut (for buyers in Berlin),” Films Distribution co-chief Nicolas Brigaud-Robert said.
“We hope by then there will be approval of the censor,” he added, which would mean festival audiences could see the uncut version without the director running the risk of a working ban. Berlin organizers have said they will run whichever version the producer decides on.
The $1.6 million film, starring Tony Leung and Fan Bingbing, is so far unseen by any buyers, and all territories remain available.
Censors convened by the Film Bureau to pass or fail films based on their adherence to an image of a clean and stable China ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics asked for 53 cuts to the 112-minute “Lost,” Fang said in a telephone interview.
Cuts would include the depiction of a love affair between a migrant window-washer and a rich man’s wife and the descent into prostitution of a country girl fired from her big-city job as a foot masseuse, Fang said.
Fang, speaking from the Beijing airport on his way to Bangkok, Thailand, to rush “Lost” into final post-production, said Film Bureau officials are behaving “more reasonably” than they did last year when they banned director Lou Ye from mainland moviemaking for five years after Fang took Ye’s “Summer Palace” to the Festival de Cannes unapproved. That film touched on the politically taboo 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
“This time, I should give a little credit to the Film Bureau officials, but none to the review committee,” Fang said, reserving his criticism for the anonymous group of film industry experts that does not publish its criteria for approval. “At least the Film Bureau itself is trying hard to help us find a compromise. That’s progress, even if they’re doing it so they won’t lose face.”
Fang said censors also demanded cuts of images of China’s national flag, Tiananmen Square, a close-up of money changing hands in casual gambling and a Mercedes-Benz driving through a puddle-filled pothole in a dark alley.
The official Berlin competition screening of “Lost” is scheduled for February 16, giving Fang barely 10 days to finish post-production and subtitling and bring the copy to the German capital.
Fang could not yet say what would happen to “Lost” at home in China if he and Li decide to take the uncut original to Berlin. “Nobody really knows the risk. I cannot make the decision until I have discussed this with my mainland distributor,” he said, referring to Yu Dong, CEO of Beijing Poly Bona Film Distribution Co.
Li has declined interviews through Fang all week and Yu could not be reached Tuesday.
Films Distribution said it has the full backing of the director to screen her uncut version to buyers. “She supports us in this position,” Brigaud-Robert said.
Acknowledging that defying the censors could have “dramatic consequences” for the helmer’s young career, Brigaud-Robert did, however, indicate that if Li decided not to risk a working ban on home turf and to cave in to the authorities’ demands, the sales company also would acquiesce.
“We won’t do anything without her accord. We’ll respect her decision,” he said.
“For us, it’s a film that doesn’t call into question anyone or anything. It’s a contemporary situation that could be set in any country. It’s not at all political,” Brigaud-Robert said.
He said there is some explicit sex and a rape scene. “But it’s comparable to any R-plus film. It’s definitely not an NC-17,” he said.
Poly Bona, the film division of the business arm of China’s army and the lead distributor of Hong Kong films on the mainland, might step in to take equity in “Lost” to help fund postproduction after Emperor Pictures of Hong Kong backed out after last week’s ban, Fang said.
With Emperor out of the picture, Taiwan sales rights are up for grabs. “Emperor was only in it because they could take the film to Taiwan. Now that they’re out, we’ll have to see what to do there,” Fang said.
(Charles Masters contributed to this report from Paris)