'Looking for Rohmer' breaks China's unwritten gay taboo

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Russia In Review

A low-budget China-France co-production has succeeded where other LGBT-themed films have previously failed in China: avoiding a ban by the country’s regulatory body, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Televison (SARFT), and officially making it into local cinemas.

Although neither a commercial success (grossing barely $600,000 since its release in mid-April) nor being particularly critically acclaimed (scoring only 4.5 out of 10 points on China’s popular movie review platform Douban), Looking for Rohmer has nevertheless made headlines as the first openly gay film to ever be publicly screened in the country.

Directed by Chao Wang, the film tells the story of the secret love relationship between a Chinese man, Zhao Jie, and a French visitor, the titular Rohmer, who travel to Tibet together.

After an argument, they eventually part ways. Zhao Jie later learns that Rohmer has suffered an accident on a glacier and, rattled by remorse, sets out to locate him after realizing the deep romantic connection he feels for the foreigner.

Looking for Rohmerwas adapted from the Chinese novel Go Tibet, whose two protagonists are actually local males. The script exchanged one of them for the French character Rohmer to raise the film’s potential for international distribution.

Although it remains obscure how Looking for Rohmer was able to slip through SARFT’s tight censorship mesh, movie reviewers hailed the film’s release as a "milestone moment" in Chinese movie history and local media have dubbed it anything from "China's first publicly shown gay movie" to “the Chinese and French version of Brokeback Mountain.”

But one possible reason that its public release wasn’t blocked might be that its gay aspect apparently is rather subdued. One commenter on China’s most popular social-media platform, Weibo, wrote that "the movie is still inside the closet," while another user expressed his disappointment as he “didn’t see much gay love, only natural sceneries."

Dalian Wanda Opens Qingdao Movie Metropolis

China’s Dalian Wanda Group, one of the largest cinema operators on the planet, has opened a movie theme park in the southeastern port city of Qingdao.

Named Qingdao Movie Metropolis, the sprawling 500-acre complex was built with an investment of $7.9 billion and reportedly comprises a state-of-the-art film studio, a movie theme park reminiscent of the Universal Studios lot, restaurants, a shopping mall, a luxury hotel, a yacht club and Asia’s biggest cinema.

Besides becoming a major tourist attraction, it is also hoped the complex will attract foreign producers to the country and, according to Wanda Dalia’s chairman Wang Jianlin, help turn Qingdao into a global film production hub.

"We will boost the Chinese movie industry development, as this [complex] is the largest investment the global film and television industry has ever seen." Jianlin boasted during the official opening ceremony on April 28.

As a precursor to the current, full-fledged Movie Metropolis, Wanda Dalian already opened its first film production facilities on the site in 2016, which since has hosted a handful of film projects including multinational co-productions like The Great Wall (2016).

With the facilities now reportedly considerably expanded and further modernized, Wanda Dalian expects to woo more high-budget movie projects from around the world that would like to benefit from China’s generally lower production cost levels.

Thai Civil Court to Hand Down Judgment on ‘The Beach’

Thailand’s Civil Court has announced that its environmental division has concluded hearing evidence in a controversial lawsuit filed by the Krabi Provincial Administration Organization and the Administration Organization of the district of Ao Nang against the producers of Hollywood film The Beach (2000), 20th Century Fox, its local coordinator, Santa International Film Production, and Thailand’s Royal Forestry Department (RFD).

The movie, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, was largely shot in 1998 on the—thanks to it—now world-famous Maya Bay on Krabi province’s island of Koh Phi-Phi. The plaintiffs allege that the filmmakers caused “irreversible ecological damage” to the idyllic bay and its gleaming white sand beach with collusion from the RFD.

The Thai court accepted the lawsuit in 2012, with the plaintiffs seeking THB100 million ($3.13 mil.) in compensation to rehabilitate the area. To assess the validity of the claim, the court dispatched an inspection team to the island in 2013 to collect evidence and question local residents.

Additionally, the court reportedly has formed a committee comprising representatives of the court, the defendants and the plaintiffs to jointly work out a rehabilitation plan. According to local media reports, the U.S. studio has also offered to set up a rehabilitation fund to correct the alleged ecological damage inflicted on Maya Bay.It is expected that the court will hand down its final judgment sometime in July.

The plaintiffs originally accused the defendants of altering the natural ecological environment of the bay and its beach by planting non-native plant species and shifting sand dunes to accommodate filming. However, both the U.S. studio and its Thai collaborator insisted that the non-native plants were removed entirely and that the beach—including its sand dunes—was returned to its original state after shooting had concluded.

Ironically, Maya Bay has since gained such fame due to the movie that it has been swamped by literally thousands of tourists every day. The litter they dump on the beach and the tourist boats’ anchors dropped on the fragile coral banks in the bay have in the meantime inflicted such tremendous ecological damage that Thai authorities have been forced to close Maya Beach for several months to give it a chance to recover.

For feedback and inquiries, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.