Summer Palace, nominated for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival, the latest film by Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye, has been censored in Beijing, apparently for "aesthetic reasons". The censors contend that the deliberate use of blurred images and other cinematic effects have rendered the film unworthy to show at Cannes. To to be up front, I've yet to see this film, though his earlier two films, Purple Butterfly  and Suzhou River  remain top on my list rivaling the best of his contemporaries, Wang Xiaoshuang and Jia Zhang-Ke) and also make extensive use of handheld camera shots and blur. One begins to question the aesthetics given the story being told, who the Guardian Unlimited summarizes as "A young woman leaves her village to study in Beijing, soon beginning an intense affair before being separated during the Tiananmen protests" or more fully by the IMDB:
Country girl Yu Hong leaves her village, her family and her lover to study in Beijing. At university, she discovers an intense world of sexual freedom and forbidden pleasure. Enraptured, compulsive, she falls madly in love with fellow student Zhou Wei. Driven by obsessive passions they can neither understand nor control, their relationship becomes one of dangerous games - betrayals, recriminations, provocations - as all around them, their fellow students begin to demonstrate, demanding democracy and freedom. Protests collapse, and Yu and Zhou lose each other amidst the social chaos and panicked crowds. Zhou Wei is sent to a summer military camp, and on his release moves to Berlin, fleeing both his country and memories of Yu. She finds a job, a lover, but can not forget Zhou. In Germany, social unrest is mounting: calls for freedom, demonstrations for democracy. A familiar story for Zhou. Weary, still haunted by Yu, he returns to China as the Berlin Wall crashes down. He finds her at last, in a small town. From evening to dawn, their future stretches before them, two changed souls in a changed world.
According to a post on Danwei:
Earlier rumors said that the censors requested changes because of "sensitive subject matter" related to some of the historical changes of the 1980s (read: Tiananmen and the collape of communist East Germany), and Lou Ye was said to have refused to alter his movie. Other rumors said that the movie was being held up because it had received international financing.
But this latest rejection comes for technical reasons, say the producers - "the picture was too fuzzy, and the sound was too low." According to TBN: "Lou Ye tried out some new artistic methods in this film, but the censor committee judged it as not being up to technical standards. This struck a blow to the director, and he cannot accept this result at present." According to Ms. Nai'an, she believes that Lou Ye was perhaps pursuing a few visual effects and used fuzzy lenses, but the censors were unable to accept this kind of artistic experimentation. "
The linking of the events of 1989 to the idea (and title of the film) of the summer palace is brilliant and demonstrates the creativity and the art of this important, though relatively unknown, filmmaker. Sanssouci, the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia at Potsdam just outside Berlin in Germany, is often counted among the German rivals of Versailles (source: Wikipedia) and Yiheyuan Summer Palace, situated 15 kilometers from central Beijing designated, in 1960 by the State Council, as a Key Cultural Relics Protection Site of China. Both architectures represent the power and perceived grandeur of the state and are located in close proximity to the cities that in 1989 saw a peoples resistance against the ruling communist state that culminated in the demise of one and the consolidation of the other.
Written by Lou and his wife Yin Li with Mei Feng, "Summer Palace" touches on pivotal historical events that might normally raise a communist censor's eyebrows, with one key exception. The film deals with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's historic tour of south China in 1992 -- which launched the reforms now driving the capitalist boom -- and Hong Kong's return to China from Britain in 1997. "Summer Palace does not include reference to Tiananmen," Fang (Producer) said, referring to the death of student democracy activists in Beijing's main square in 1989 at the hands of the Chinese army. "The film's themes are noncontroversial, so there should be no problem for passing the Film Bureau's examination," Fang said. (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
Very well put. Perhaps there isn't any direct reference to the "June 4th Incident", which for me makes the film ever more intriguing. Lou Ye, a filmmaker that I've been raving about for years... go and see this film. If anybody has access to it, please drop me a line.
Danwei. Summer Palace rejected over aesthetic differences
IMDB. Summer Palace Summary
Hollywood Reporter. 'Palace' producers challenge Beijing censors
Kaiju Shakedown. Cannes gets Lou Ye in Hot Water
Posted by on May 18, 2006 12:08 PM | Permalink