Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright

By Guan Xiaomeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-12 07:21
Large Medium Small

Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright
Zhan Xueyan, one of the Opera performers in the film appears in the court as witness. [] 

BEIJING - Internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Zhang Yimou is on trial this week for suspected copyright infringement of Dixi, a type of opera, known for its colorful masks, which originated in Anshun city in Southwest China's Guizhou province. Dixi is considered a national intangible cultural heritage opera.

Zhang introduced the opera in his film Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles made in 2005.

Related readings:
Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright Zhang Yimou promotes movie "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" at Berlinale
Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright Zhang Yimou sent team to prepare show in Taiwan
Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright Zhang Yimou's new 'Story' premieres
Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright Zhang Yimou is hip

The Beijing Xicheng District Court on Tuesday heard the case, in which Zhang, together with film producer Zhang Weiping and the film distribution company, were sued by the Anshun city culture authority for not crediting Dixi to the city.

Zhang Yimou did not appear in court on Tuesday.

The plaintiff's attorney played the film in court to show that Dixi was played in the film. All eight opera performers were selected by Zhang Yimou from Anshun before they traveled to Lijiang of Yunnan province with the crew to shoot the film.

But the film did not mention it was Anshun Dixi, which led some audiences to think that the opera was from Yunnan.

Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright
A poster of the film shows the male lead holds a mask of Dixi against the background of Lijiang of Yunan province.


Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright
Zhan Xueyan, a Dixi performer selected by Zhang Yimou plays a stand-in in the film.

Zhan Xueyan, one of the opera performers in the film, appeared in court as a witness. He said the singers performed two plays in the film to support the plot and what they performed in the film was exactly the same as the original version of the Dixi in lines, costumes and actions.

But Zhang Yimou's lawyer said the accusation is without merit, because no law in China regulates intangible cultural heritage copyright infringement and there is no line in the film saying the opera belongs to Yunnan.

"Film is a fictional art form and it is pointless to define a plot scenario as a real artistic form," he said.

The court adjourned after the defendant's side refused to accept the request from the plaintiff to entitle Anshun to the Dixi in the later-released copy of the film. No verdict was given Tuesday.

Zhang Yimou sued over opera copyright
Dixi performance in Anshun/

"The director's job is to illustrate the subject of the film by using various artistic elements. I don't think we have to clarify between a real artistic form and artistic expression in a piece of artistic work," said a columnist named Wuyue Sanren.

"But I think it is improper not to credit the opera to Anshun."

Liu Shuliang, a professor of directing and performing with the Communication University of China, also called for the creation of a culture heritage protection law.

Without legal protection, the brawl could be considered an error of not giving credit in the film-making process.

"We have no specific law to protect such cultural heritage in China and Chinese filmmakers usually take introducing anything for granted," Liu said.

"Western films pay much attention to this and they even give credit to what is aired on the TV used in the film," he said.