A French affair

Chinese movie set in Paris plays up to Gallic stereotypes

A French affair

Getting frisky in France: Deng (left)

“I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French.”

A fairly savage indictment – and probably only permissible because it came from the lips of proud Frenchman Charles de Gaulle himself.

China’s Zhang Haixia is likely in agreement with the haughty General’s assessment. An associate professor at the Ministry of Justice, Zhang provoked a storm at a recent event when he said Chinese women studying in France return home “as complete losers”.

What could he possibly mean? Zhang cited the example of a friend, whose daughter enjoyed the company of 10 boyfriends while studying there.

“France is a romantic country, so when they study in France and come back, they all become much more debauched,” was Zhang’s verdict.

Evidently, the professor fears that a bout of French tuition will see girls return as the Chinese equivalent of Emmanuelle. Perhaps fearing that his audience won’t be familiar with this sensual landmark in French cinema, Zhang has preferred to compare the returnees to Pan Jinlian – a character from Chinese classic Water Margin associated with promiscuity.

The anti-French tirade went viral when fellow law professor Yu Jianrong forwarded a video of the speech, reports the China Hush blog. Zhang backpeddled, retorting that it was deliberate misinterpretation. He was joking in class, he insisted, and slammed Yu’s disclosure as irresponsible.

By then it was too late, with internet commentators rounding on him. One, going by the name Kikibloss, noted on 163.com: “In a society like China, a man can have sex with different women and that’s normal, while a woman who has sex with different men is Pan Jinlian? The truth is, you are just a male chauvinist.”

As luck would have it, the academic bunfight coincides with the release of a Sino-French movie in which sexuality is very much a theme. Shot in Paris, it stars Deng Chao as the male protagonist, alongside Jane March, an English actress best remembered (by WiC, at least) for her role in steamy 1992 film The Lover. Noting her home town, the British tabloid press delighted in nicknaming March ‘The Sinner from Pinner” (after a series of romps with Hong Kong Chinese actor, Tony Leung).

Director Wang Jing was a big fan of the French-made flick, and approached March to appear in her Paris-based movie, Perfect Baby.

This time round March stars in more of a romantic comedy, but still one that must have pushed the boundaries as far as the Chinese censors were concerned.

One scene involving sperm bank donation drew much media comment as an audacious first for Chinese cinemagoers. An appearance by a transvestite, plus a pretend homosexual relationship (gay plots are not often seen on Chinese screens, see WiC114) has also ensured that the film is getting plenty of chatter online.

As readers may have surmised, the movie has a somewhat farcical storyline – mixing Deng’s obsession with a Parisian girl, his desire to become a French citizen, and his growing love for his test tube daughter.

But Netease Entertainment reports that the controversial elements have made Perfect Baby “the dark horse” at the Chinese box office in recent weeks.

Unlike The Lover, which was Oscar-nominated for Best Cinematography, Jane March won’t be expecting much international acclaim for this particular outing.

Nor, on the whole, will it do much to contradict Chinese stereotypes of French debauchery.

You can almost hear Professor Zhang rehearsing a few “I told you so’s”…

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