China casts out ‘Outcast’

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Once again, China has pulled a major English-language movie literally hours before its scheduled opening. The 3D-rendered Chinese version of Outcast, a co-production of France, Canada, the USA and China, was reportedly blocked on Sept. 26, two hours ahead of midnight previews in Beijing by Chinese studio Yunnan Film Group Co. Ltd., its main local investor. The film was due to be released nationwide the following day, but the studio issued a statement claiming without further elaboration that the decision to pull it was made “by foreign investors and distributors.” The statement did not say if or when the movie would return. Outcast would have been one of the largest releases this year so far in China, having reportedly secured some 25% of all of the country’s cinema screens.

This is not the first time a major production has been unexpectedly blocked on short notice in China. Last year, the Quentin Tarantino-directed Django Unchained was pulled by its local distributor, China Film Group Corp., on April 11, its supposed opening day. This initially had led to speculation that the movie had run afoul of China’s vigilant censors, who generally remove overly violent, sexually graphic and politically sensitive content not only from foreign but also domestic productions. However, Django Unchained suddenly returned to cinemas on May 12, with the new version reportedly having been cut by roughly one minute compared to the original.

Outcast, a period action film, stars Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen as former Christian Crusaders who venture to China. They team up with the son and daughter of a deposed emperor, played by American-born martial-arts expert Andy On and Chinese actress Yifei Liu, to defeat the siblings’ evil uncle and usurper of the throne. 

China’s Baidu Launches Investment Plan
Chinese Internet commerce leviathan Baidu Inc. in late September kicked off a public film-investment program rather reminiscent of last year’s “Entertainment Bao” scheme launched by another Chinese Internet giant, Alibaba Group.

Structured as a crowdfunding project, Baidu’s “Bai Fa Yu Xi” scheme invites the public to buy into investment plans for specific local films. The first movie included in the plan reportedly was director Ann Hui’s The Golden Era, which premiered on Oct. 1 in Beijing.

Interested investors can choose from different plans ranging from a mere RMB10 ($1.62) up to a maximum of RMB10,000 ($1,624). Despite the program’s late launch, the funding target for The Golden Era of RMB15 million was reportedly exceeded within minutes, raising a total of RMB18 million.

Like Alibaba’s scheme, Baidu’s program likewise offers investors a guaranteed return on their investment of between 8% and 16%—provided the movie grosses at least RMB100 million at the box office. The investment period is set at 180 days. But in addition to a monetary return, investors are also enticed by souvenir perks such as personalized messages from the cast, hand-signed copies of the screenplay and original storyboards of the respective movies.

Last year, Alibaba’s “Entertainment Bao,” which advertised an investment return of 7%, drew widespread criticism as allegedly being an insurance scheme disguised as a film-investment program. However, Baidu’s “Bai Fa Yu Xi” guarantees some unspecified form of return even if the targeted box-office amount is not reached. The scheme was set up in association with China Film Group Corp., Da-Heng Law Offices and investment firm CITIC Trust.

Black Coal Gallops Towards Golden Horse

The Chinese crime thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) received the majority of nominations in the lead-up to this year’s 51st Golden Horse Awards, Taiwan’s most prestigious film prizes.

The nominations were announced on Oct. 1 in Taiwan’s capital Taipei by Kang-sheng Lee and Shu-yao Kuo, winners of last year’s awards for Best Actor and Best New Performer, respectively.

Black Coal, Thin Ice already won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. The movie scored a total of eight Golden Horse nominations, primarily in important categories such as Best Director (Yi’nan Diao), Best Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Actress (Lun-mei Gwei) and Best Actor (Fan Liao).

The runner-up with seven nominations was another Mainland China production, Blind Massage, directed by Lou Ye. Six nominations each went to Taiwanese movies Kano and Paradise in Service, as well as Hong Kong director Benny Chan’s action film The White Storm (from 2013).

While last year’s awards were dominated by Hong Kong productions, more than half of all nominations this year went to movies from Mainland China. Since Taiwan imposes strict controls on distribution and public screenings of Mainland films, most of the nominated Chinese movies are expected to be only shown within the festival program.

This year’s jury is headed by acclaimed Chinese-born Hollywood actress Joan Chen (The Last Emperor, Heaven & Earth). The awards ceremony is scheduled to take place in Taipei on Nov 22.
 
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