Third time unlucky for maverick director Lou
By Liu Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-05-26 11:42

Director Lou Ye is putting a brave face on his latest failure to win the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Special Coverage: The 62th Cannes Film Festival

Lou, who competed at Cannes despite a five-year ban on filmmaking by Chinese authorities, yesterday won only the best screenplay award for Spring Fever (Chunfeng Chenzui de Yewan), a film involving a homosexual relationship.

It is the third time Lou has missed out on the top prize - the previous two were with Purple Butterfly (Zi Hudie) and Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)- but he believes the "freedom" to make films means more than awards for today's Chinese directors.

The film's scriptwriter, Beijing Film Academy Professor Mei Feng, was upbeat about the lone award, however. He says he is "a bit surprised" with winning anything at all and attributed the honor to "the charm of the film and director's work."

Third time unlucky for maverick director Lou

Three years ago Lou offended China's top industry regulator, the State Administration of Radio, TV and Film (SARFT), by failing to get the censors' approval for Summer Palace, featuring full-frontal nudity and controversial political issues. In accordance with SARFT regulations, Lou was banned from making a film for five years for taking part in overseas film festivals with an uncensored film.

Lou secretly shot Spring Fever with France and Hong Kong backing and entered it at Cannes as a co-production from the two regions.

"I have long claimed that I won't obey the ban," Luo told China Daily by e-mail. "I am a citizen entitled by the Constitution to work. I work as a film director."

Spring Fever, set in present-day Nanjing, East China, tells a love drama between three men and a woman (Tan Zhuo) and depicts explicit scenes of both gay and straight sex.

Variety's Derek Kelley finds that "as Lou has seemingly catered more and more to Euro tastes (and Western sensibilities), his vision and imagination have become progressively more restricted."

However, Sukhdev Sandhu, film critic of the Daily Telegraph in London, appreciates the film, and says: "Lou captures very well the mood of drift and fragmentation in modern-day urban China."

Some critics believe Lou tends to choose controversial topics, such as homosexuality and political events, to draw extra attention to his work, a charge he dismisses. "I do not shoot a film for political reasons or to create controversy," he says. "Every film's topic is related to my life and thoughts at the time the film was made. Sometimes they are for very personal reasons."

Lou's latest work did not cause as much of a stir among reviewers and filmgoers as Summer Palace did at Cannes three years ago.

"For one thing, censorship has been more tolerant in recent years than before," says film scholar Yu Ji. "The film industry has also grown quickly, giving people more choices of films to watch and talk about, and people's interest fades unless an underground film has a new topic."

Lou has now thrown himself into a new film adapted from Chinese writer Jie LIU-FALIN's novel The Bitch about a Chinese woman living in Paris. It's a further defiance of the SARFT ban but he has no grave fears for his future.

"Of course I have concerns," he says. "But China has improved a lot today. I don't believe there would be any severer punishment."

Zhang Hongsen, deputy director of the State Film Bureau affiliated to SARFT, refused to comment on Lou, the film, its competition in Cannes, nor what further punishment the director might receive. "I won't say anything about this person or this issue," he says.

Lou is one of many filmmakers who have clashed with China's censorship system. Jiang Wen and Wang Xiaoshuai, for instance, received similar bans to Lou but have softened their stances and had their latest works screened publicly.