Following a last-minute withdrawal from a prestigious international film festival, a highly anticipated Chinese war epic was canceled days before its scheduled release across Chinese theaters on July 5.
On June 25, the production team behind “The Eight Hundred” film posted an announcement on its official Weibo account, stating that the cancelation decision came after consultation with multiple parties, and that “a new release date will be announced at a later time.” Weibo is a popular social media platform similar to Twitter.
Lauded as China’s version of “Dunkirk,” the film took ten years of production and was poised to be a promising blockbuster to hit the Chinese market this summer. It was also the first Chinese film entirely shot on digital IMAX cameras with a budget of over $80 million, according to the film’s promotion materials.
But the night before its scheduled premiere on June 15, the opening day of the Shanghai International Film Festival, the movie suddenly announced that it would pull out of the event, due to “technical issues.”
The abrupt cancellation and ambiguous explanation from the production company have triggered speculation among Chinese internet users, who saw it as the Chinese regime’s latest attempt to muffle voices in the entertainment industry that deviate from the Party line.
Similar incidents occurred in February when “One Second,” a film directed by renowned Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, as well as “Better Days,” a drama that deals with high school bullying, were both abruptly dropped from the Berlin International Festival.
Directed by Chinese film producer Guan Hu, “The Eight Hundred” depicts one of the bloodiest battles during the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, which saw some 400 Kuomintang (also known as Nationalist Party) soldiers fighting against hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers in besieged Shanghai. The army’s commander claimed to have only eight hundred troops, but they successfully held their enemies at bay for four days and nights.
Guan Hu said in a video released on Weibo that “they are the backbone of the nation of China.”
Our next movie The Eight Hundred will hit Chinese theatres on 5 July! Directed by #GuanHu, this large-scale production was only made possible through years of preparation and the dedication of thousands of employees. We are incredibly thankful as we celebrate a happy #LaborDay! pic.twitter.com/J45h7Twlgl
— Huayi Brothers Corp (@HuayiBrosCorp) May 1, 2019
Netizens have circulated a theory about the cancelation, saying that the Chinese Communist regime was likely displeased with the film because it depicted its old nemesis, the Kuomintang, in a favorable light. The Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were involved in a civil war since 1927. When the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the two sides briefly united to fight the Japanese, with the Kuomintang making up the majority of Chinese armed forces.
After the war ended in 1945, the two sides continued to battle for control over China. The Kuomintang lost to its communist rivals in 1949 and retreated to the island of Taiwan. Today, the flag representing the “Republic of China” in self-ruled Taiwan is the same as that created during the Kuomintang’s founding.
Prior to the film’s cancelation, there were voices of dissatisfaction from pro-Maoist scholars and retired Communist military officials. A Maoist organization organized a film discussion forum in Beijing on June 9, where they said the film’s release was inappropriately timed, given that the anniversary of the Party’s founding was coming up on July 1.
According to a summary of the forum posted on the Maoist organization website, the participants noted frequent scenes of raising and defending the Kuomintang flags in the movie, and said that these “glorifications” would hurt the feelings of Chinese people and veterans who defeated the Kuomintang and allowed the CCP to take power in China.
“The climax of the film was when the Kuomintang troops … defended with their lives the flag imprinted with a blue sky and white sun. In that historical setting, the political meaning behind is crystal clear,” one person was quoted as saying.
Many moviegoers poured out their disappointment at the movie’s cancelation by commenting under the announcement on Weibo.
“The only movie I was anticipating has been canceled,” one person wrote.
“A good film can stand the test of time. We will wait expectantly for the day of the film’s release,” another said.
Some also suspected the Chinese regime was censoring the movie in order to maintain its narrative that the CCP was a key contributor to defeating the Japanese. Historians have refuted this claim.
“Even if the release is canceled, no one will believe in the lies of the Communist Party anymore,” one netizen wrote.
“As expected, some history is forbidden for us to remember. Chinese film has a long journey ahead,” another commented.
Chinese independent scholar Wang Kang said that he was not surprised to see what happened to the film, as the CCP has often depicted itself as a savior of China.
“The CCP has always been portraying itself as the central pillar for fighting against Japanese,” Wang told Radio Free Asia in a June 26 interview.