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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ang Lee's Oscar hot topic in China

Ang Lee's Oscar hot topic in China

By Jonathan LandrethWed Mar 8, 4:48 AM ET

"Oscar honor brings joy to Chinese" read a front-page headline of Tuesday's China Daily, after "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee became what the state-run paper called "the glory of Chinese cinematic talent."

But Lee's film about romance between two men -- which made him the first Asian to win the best director Oscar -- is not likely to screen in China, industry critics say, and has turned the Taiwan-born filmmaker into something of a political football.

"China's a socialist country and, like in the Soviet Union before us, many subjects cannot break through in this system," said Cui Zi'en, an openly gay filmmaker and professor at the Beijing Film Academy.

While its mature themes didn't stop "Brokeback" from distribution in Hong Kong and Taiwan, its R-rating in the U.S. works against it in China, where homosexuality wasn't removed from the China Psychiatric Society's list of mental disorders until April 2000.

Foreign film companies -- limited as they are by law to a total of 20 revenue-sharing theatrical releases in China each year -- tend to submit titles they guess won't offend Beijing's censors, who tend to frown on sex and violence.

Either way, Chinese already can buy widely available pirated editions.

Observers say that the chances of "Brokeback" screening here might be further complicated by the fact that Lee, 51, hails from a self-governing island that Beijing calls a renegade province; and yet he has just won an honor that has eluded mainland directors for years.

"Lee must be the envy of Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige," Yang Rui, China Central Television host, said Monday night on his primetime talk show "Dialogue." (CCTV's movie channel showed the Oscars the same morning with a two-hour delay to accommodate interpreters' voiceovers and censors' cuts, producers said.)

Appearing on "Dialogue," Beijing Foreign Studies University film critic Teng Jimeng called Chen's "The Promise" -- China's foreign-language Oscar submission this year -- a "failure" and praised "Brokeback."

Not making things any easier for Lee on the mainland, he was hailed as "the pride of Taiwan" by the island's democratically elected leader Chen Shui-bian, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported from Taipei on Monday.

Chen is perennially in hot water with the mainland for his talk of lasting independence for Taiwan, and is the object of unusually sharp criticism this week in Beijing, where China's legislators are gathered for their annual meeting to discuss, among other things, reunification with Taiwan.

Printed directly above its story hailing Lee for bringing "joy to Chinese" through film, the China Daily ran a story saying Taiwan legislators loyal to Beijing had condemned Chen for his "radical secessionist path."

Oscar coverage in other mainland media also reinforced the communist party's "One China" stance.

On Monday night, CCTV cut from its Oscar re-cap the part of Lee's acceptance speech in which he thanked Taiwan and Hong Kong separately from China.

On Tuesday, the Beijing Youth Daily gave strong play to the fact that Lee punctuated his English-language speech to Hollywood with a "Thank you, everyone" in Mandarin Chinese, the official language of both the mainland and Taiwan.

Notably absent from CCTV's Oscar coverage was the translated voiceover for the film montage introduced by actor Samuel L. Jackson about Hollywood's power to reflect political and societal change. The editorial choice left the majority of viewers in China unable to fully grasp clips from films such as "Philadelphia," in which Tom Hanks plays a man dying of AIDS, and "All the President's Men," in which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play reporters who reveal government corruption.

Gay director Cui's films have not been distributed on the mainland, but he acknowledges that there have been minor recent advances in open discussion of gay issues in some media in China.

A single line in Tuesday's China Daily reported, "the gay community was especially upset" that "Brokeback" did not win best picture.


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