Filmmaker Zhang Yimou titled his latest feature One Second, but it took much longer than that to get the film released. A story based in the Cultural Revolution, it was originally scheduled to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2019. Shortly before the debut, it was shelved for “technical reasons,” a euphemism in China for state censorship.
The film tells the tale of an escaped prisoner (played by actor Zhang Yi) who is searching for newsreel with fleeting footage of his deceased daughter. Meanwhile, a homeless vagabond (played by newcomer Liu Haocun, pictured) wants to steal the same film reel to make a lampshade (a popular decoration in that period).
Zhang’s labour of love has been a hit with the critics. On Douban, One Second received a score of 7.9 out of 10. But the ratings haven’t helped to boost box office takings. The film picked up just Rmb47.7 million ($7.29 million) in ticket sales over the first two days of its release.
A lot of the feedback is that the story is simply not relatable for younger audiences. “I don’t plan to watch the film. I feel like my dad and mom would like it more,” one wrote on Douban.
Still, Zhang has been upbeat, insisting that his main motivation in making the film wasn’t a commercial one. “In the current commercial climate, the chance of such a movie being made is very low. A filmmaker like me can still make a few more [of these arthouse films] but others wouldn’t even be able to find investors. So this film is my wish coming true,” he told reporters.
Perhaps Zhang should consider himself lucky that his film reached cinemas. Fantasy-action blockbuster Monster Hunter, which is based on a video game of the same name, ran into trouble a few days after its release, following a backlash over a pun on the word “Chinese” that audiences deemed as derogatory. The offending moment? In one scene, an Asian soldier, played by Asian-American rapper and actor MC Jin, joked to a Caucasian soldier “what knees are these?” before responding with “Chi-knees”. The studio pulled the film after a couple of days, such was the invective on social media.
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