CHINA / Newsmaker

Chen not amused by steamed bun spoof
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-20 06:41

Arguably the best-known film director in China spent 340 million yuan (US$42 million) on his new release only to help a young, self-made multimedia editor recycle it into his own comic show, which became an instant success.

Hu Ge, a 31-year-old who holds no regular job in Shanghai, was sued was sued for alleged defamation by China's top director Chen Kaige. [file photo]

In his awkwardly-titled "The Blood Case That Started from a Steamed Bun," Hu Ge, a 31-year-old who holds no regular job in Shanghai, makes fun of The Promise, a fantasy epic directed by Chen Kaige for its "boredom and unoriginality."

The 20-minute film was released on his blog, according to Hu, "just for fun," and it became a free-download hit, while The Promise made close to 200 million yuan (US$25 million) at the box office both in China and abroad after its general release.

Chen flew into a rage at news of Hu's film, accusing it of being "unimaginably shameless," and vowed to sue him for defamation.

But his threats have generated something like an Internet-wide rebellion with some netizens going as far as to describe Chen as a "tyrant" and rallying around Hu for his right to speak out.

Before he knew it, Hu became China's first cyber-hero. "Actually," Hu told China Daily, "all I want from life is to have fun and I never planned to become famous this way."

The self-employed night owl, who seldom gets out of bed by the time most people are having lunch, is not prepared to defend himself legally against a heavy-duty challenger like Chen.

"My mind just went blank," Hu said, describing his feelings when he first heard of Chen's threat to file a lawsuit.

He said he is ready to apologize to Chen if he so demanded, but does not regret the message in his film at least for the time being.

But what if the lawsuit ended up with Hu ordered to pay a substantial amount in damages?

That's very likely, Sun Wei, a lawyer at Shanghai Junyue Law Firm, told China Business News, a national business newspaper.

Hu could have breached China's Copyright Law on as many as three counts and the plaintiff could press for a compensation of as much as 500,000 yuan (US$62,000), he explained if Chen sued for copyright violation instead of defamation.

But Zhou Lin, a professor at the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, disagreed. The Copyright Law allows part of someone's work to be used for fair comment or for private use, he told China Daily.

"But, of course, there is a limit on how much you can quote, which is still up to the court to decide," he said.

He added that in legal practice, there is an exemption for "parody" defined as one using another's work so as to entertain a different audience or to give the similar audience a different feeling of the latter's work, usually by being funny.

"It is another kind of fair use," he said.

According to Shen Zheng, professor at the Chinese University of Politics and Law in Beijing, the key is to determine whether Hu's film was produced for commercial use.

Win or lose the case, Hu seems to have won great support among netizens; and some have even called for raising a Hu Ge Fund to cover his legal expenses.

For his part, Hu the inadvertent cyber-hero, is already finding his life in the real world troublesome and is beginning to miss his happy bachelor's life. "I have been so busy and under so much pressure for the last few weeks."

Chen Kaige

He told China Daily that in the days before his newfound fame, he was a diehard fan of Michael Jackson and a drummer in a college rock band.

For the last few years, he has been living a simple life, making ends meet by engineering audio effects for advertising and animations, and selling audio equipment online.

On weekends, he usually enjoys roller-skating with friends on the newly-paved roads in Shanghai's Pudong, the ultra-modern business area.

The turning point in his life came on Christmas Eve of 2005, when he paid 80 yuan (US$10) for a ticket to see "The Promise," only to feel that, as a viewer, he had been shortchanged and decided to recycle its footage to amuse himself and his friends.

The film which mainly pokes fun at the over-the-top scenes of "The Promise" was completed in 10 days during his spare time. Netizens found it packed with humour and swarmed to watch it online; and many spent hours downloading the 51-million-byte piece.

Chen, however, did not see the funny side of Hu's film. He told foreign journalists in December that his work had important messages regarding "love, freedom, and destiny."

"I know that people are working very hard and feel tired on many levels," he said. "I hope that they can go to the cinema and sit there and forget everything for two hours, just enjoy (my movie) and feel like they had a spiritual shower."

(China Daily 02/20/2006 page1)