China to Finally Show Controversial Director’s Films : Movies: Censors’ approval of three works by Zhang Yimou indicates that economic reforms may be accompanied by a loosening of cultural controls.


Two important films by one of China’s most controversial directors have been approved for domestic release, an official newspaper said Monday.

“Qiu Ju’s Lawsuit,” Zhang Yimou’s new film about contemporary peasant life, plus his previous “Ju Dou” and “Raise the Red Lantern” will be shown nationwide beginning in September, the China Daily reported Monday.

Approval of showing of “Raise the Red Lantern” had been announced in late June.

Censors’ approval of the films--"Ju Dou” and “Raise the Red Lantern” were Academy Award nominees for best foreign language films of 1990 and 1991, respectively--constitutes one of the clearest indications yet seen here that a resurgent push for economic reforms may be accompanied by a loosening of cultural controls.


Senior leader Deng Xiaoping has tried since the year began to reinvigorate China’s reform drive, warning that obstruction by “leftists” is one of the most serious problems facing the country. Film industry leaders have used this new “anti-leftism” drive to push for greater artistic freedom.

Last month, the official Beijing Youth Daily reported that “Mama,” an award-winning film by Zhang Yuan, another controversial director, will be released domestically after almost a three-year delay. This film, which concerns the relationship between a mother and her disabled son, has won acclaim at international film festivals.

“Although the (Zhang Yimou) films were made by a Chinese director, they were never released on the big screen on the Chinese Mainland before now,” the article said. “While denied critical response from his countrymen, the films have been warmly received elsewhere.”

Both “Ju Dou” and “Raise the Red Lantern” are set in the 1920s countryside of North China. They deal more explicitly with sexual themes than is common in Chinese films. Each also portrays an old man in a bad light. Since China is ruled by a clique of old men, even something as ordinary as this may be suspected of having political overtones.

The China Daily noted that “many different interpretations and analyses have been offered” about “Raise the Red Lantern.” The newspaper said that “Some praise the work, others find fault. Still others attempt to infer some comparison between the film and current Chinese politics.”

Zhang, interviewed by the China Daily, declined to comment on the film’s meaning, saying, “The merits and demerits of the film should be debated by the general audience. It is best for me now to say as little as possible.”

The China Daily said Zhang “is occasionally criticized for ‘exposing too much darkness.’ But most critics and audiences hold that Zhang’s films are deep, tragic and thought-provoking. They particularly admire Zhang’s strong local flavor, amazing photography and exaggerated use of color and sound.”

The paper also sought to put a positive political interpretation on Zhang’s depiction in “Raise the Red Lantern” of incessant struggles among the wife and three concubines of a rural landlord.

The film, the paper said, “illustrates in an indirect way the importance of unity and mutual understanding to a family, a company or even a nation. A good and harmonious relationship among the Chinese people is particularly necessary during the current reforms.”