'As Sex Scenes are Banned, We Need to be Creative'
Web-only interview with director Feng Xiaogang
By STEPHEN SHORT
October 26, 2000
Web posted at 7:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 7:00 a.m. EDT
TIME: Sex scenes are still banned in mainland Chinese movies. If they weren't, is it a subject that you and others would show more of?
Feng: I need to get my cigarettes (he disappears but returns moments later). Because sex is prohibited directors have to think hard and creatively find a way to make the audience feel that even though they don't see the couple in a sexual situation, they still have this feeling that something has happened between two actors. Chinese directors are forced to portray sexual relationships in a more subtle and perhaps more interesting way. Sometimes the love between a man and a woman is based on just one look between them -- and you have a really lovely scene.
Feng: Yes, there were some scenes [that were controversial and were cut]. The end of the movie originally had a portion where the husband snuck out to see his lover. This was a very moving and beautiful scene outside on a street lined with trees, which got cut for two reasons. First, the censors though that after the husband returned home, the affair ought to be over, for good. Another reason is that, at that point, the movie was one hour and 55 minutes long -- but all of the theaters prefer to show movies that are 90 to 100 minutes long. This way they can show eight films in a row; if a movie is too long they can only show seven. I was really reluctant to cut the scene but I did it anyway. One reason I did it is because this was the first time the Chinese government allowed this type of material to be filmed. And I thought since they were willing to compromise on this, I also ought to be willing to give some ground on my side. There was another scene cut from the beginning, too.
Feng: The movie is titled 'The Funeral of the Famous Star.' Originally we wanted Ge You to play the role, but since we needed a really big star, we decided to look for a Hollywood actor. The story is about an elderly star wanting to have a really big funeral, but he doesn't want it to be a sorrowful occasion but rather a joyous one. The actor's friends help him and they start advertising the event. Eventually the advertisements become more and more commercial to the point where the guy is lying in his coffin at his funeral with ads covering his body. In today's society everyone is bombarded with advertisements so I want to do a film that addresses this subject, but with black humor. So we sent Brando the script and he was very interested. We set up a plan with his agent for him to come to China. We already had all the investment money secured. But then right before the project got underway, Brando suddenly canceled. Now we're trying to find some other American actor who has a very strong personality, someone like Al Pacino or Warren Beatty. We hope to find an actor who is willing to come to China because he's personally interested in the story.
TIME: Did Brando cancel because of a money issue?
Feng: No, Brando is just a very strange kind of person. One day he's really friendly and says he's willing to do a project, then the next day he's suddenly changed his mind. When some other people heard we wanted to ask Brando to play the role, their reaction was "good luck!"
TIME: Where is Chinese cinema right now? Is it getting braver and bolder? What do you think are the bold/brave initiatives that have occurred over the last few years?
Feng: With China's entry to the World Trade Organization, the film industry needs to prepare in three ways. First, Chinese directors will need to learn to find their own funding through private investors. We can no longer rely on government funding. I'm already well prepared because from the very beginning I've always used private money. Second, we have to get rid of piracy. This is a very serious issue. Third, Chinese movie theaters are in a bad state; we need to build quality theatres with eight to 10 screens each. Things are coming along well in this regard, particularly in Shanghai and Beijing.
TIME: Who do you think are the most exciting actors in China right now?
Feng: I think Ge You and Gong Li are two excellent actors.
TIME: What do you think of [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star] Zhang Ziyi?
Feng: She has really only just begun, but she has potential.
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