New-wave cinema in China has yet to see better days.
Despite a gripping plot about a dystopian world of disaffected youth, director Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang’s latest offering appears to have fallen foul of the censors.
Pulled at the last minute from competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February, Better Days is now struggling to be released in movie theaters.
The film’s official social media strand on the Twitter-like Weibo app contained a surreal statement of avant-garde proportions.
“After considering the level of completion of Better Days and our market pre-assessments, and following consultations between the production and distribution parties, the film will not be released [in China] on June 27,” it said earlier this week.
Industry insiders immediately interpreted the coded message as shorthand for government interference by the appropriately named Communist Party’s Propaganda Bureau.
In the past six months, Chinese filmmakers have come under intense political pressure.
Better Days just happens to be the latest victim.
Adapted from the online novel Young and Beautiful, it portrays the enigmatic Zhou Dongyu in a violent tale of bullying and murder.
The 27-year-old actress created quite a stir in Tsang’s critically-acclaimed 2016 drama Soul Mate, winning a Golden Horse Award in Taiwan.
Since then, she has become the rising star of a new generation of Chinese actresses.
“The focus is shifting to talent and ability and is no longer about beauty,” she said during a Kering Women in Motion talk for Variety on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival last month.
Still, her remarkable performance in Better Days has yet to be seen in her own country after a clampdown on overseas screenings, resulting in the decision not to show the film at the Berlin Festival.
Back in February, a simple statement was issued:
“We are very sorry to tell everyone that because of post-production reasons, the film Better Days will not be able to attend the 69th Berlin Film Festival in time. We thank the Berlin Festival for its recognition and understanding, and everyone for their support.”
Tsang’s production is not the only movie being singled out.
Even legendary director Zhang Yimou has suffered at the hands of the censors. His Cultural Revolution-era film One Second was hastily withdrawn in Berlin, again citing “technical reasons.”
Last month, the eagerly-awaited Summer of Changsha was eventually screened at the Cannes Festival Festival without the usual media or promotional hype.
Finally, The Eight Hundred, a gritty action drama about the defense of Shanghai against the Japanese army in 1937, disappeared from the schedule at the Shanghai International Film Festival this week.
The propaganda bureau voiced concerns about the depiction of the nationalist government, which eventually lost the civil war to the ruling Communist Party a decade later.
Insipid dogma has left invention on the cutting room floor.
Yet as the CCP continues to tighten its grip on the creative arts, Better Days remains in limbo. Moviegoers quickly expressed their fears after the release date was canceled.
Within hours of the announcement, more than 50,000 fans posted messages of support on Weibo. “No matter how long it takes, I’ll wait for you,” captured the mood of the moment.
It seems all of them are waiting for Better Days to arrive.