Lou Ye’s ‘Saturday Fiction’ to Hit China Theaters at Last, Nearly Two Years After Abrupt Cancellation

Lou Ye’s embattled 2019 film “Saturday Fiction” will have a theatrical outing in the Chinese auteur’s home country nearly two years after its planned high-profile premiere there was abruptly cancelled.

After its long time in the dark, the black-and-white drama will return triumphantly to the official limelight as the closing film of the Beijing Intl. Film Festival on Sept. 10, then go on to light up Chinese theaters Oct. 15. Its star, the iconic Gong Li (“Red Sorghum,” “Mulan”), is this year’s chairman of the international jury for the festival’s top Tiantan Awards.

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“Saturday Film” originally debuted in competition at Venice in 2019 and was set to premiere in China soon after as the opening film of the country’s highly politicized government-run Golden Rooster Film Festival. It was yanked without warning from the line-up the night before due to unspecified “internal production problems” and replaced by a low-budget documentary about traditional bamboo flutes.

The inauspicious exit from the Golden Rooster made”Saturday Fiction” the fifth Chinese film to run into last-minute trouble at a 2019 festival. Nevertheless, the movie had indeed passed censorship and received its “dragon seal” of approval, and had been scheduled for Chinese theatrical release in early December, though that outing was quietly cancelled.

While it is unclear whether Ye has made cuts or changes to the film since then, it’s evident that the film has returned to official good graces. Gong’s role may have given it a boost: the Beijing Intl. Film Festival will be screening a special retrospective of ten of her other works, including “The Story of Qiu-Ju (1992)” and “Leap (2020).”

Meanwhile, the festival will open this year with the politically correct Korean War film “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” co-directed by Chen Kaige, Dante Lam and Tsui Hark and starring top box office drawers Wu Jing and Jackson Yee.

The Beijing Intl. Film Festival is typically held in late April, but this year was pushed back to mid-August and then late September due to COVID-19 conditions. It is now set to run as an in-person event from Sept. 21-29 at more than 30 venues in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, with opening and closing ceremonies held at a venue on the northeastern outskirts of the capital. Theaters are currently operating at 75% capacity due to the ongoing pandemic.

The line-up is made up of an eclectic collection of around 300 Chinese and international films. Among them in the “restored classics” section are foreign films never before released in China, including “Barton Fink,” “Mulholland Drive,” “The Godfather Coda,” and “The Social Network.” There will be retrospectives of works by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Charlie Chaplin, as well as Imax screenings of all three “Star Trek” reboot films. Other notable films include Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at Berlin earlier this year, and “In the Heights.”

There will also be a wide selection of patriotic films to fete this year’s 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party and a small selection of winter-themed films to ring in the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Gong will chair a jury that includes Nadine Labaki, Renny Harlin, Taiwanese director Leste Chen, Chinese helmer Wuershan, and actors Chen Kun and Zhang Songwen.

Tiantan Award Nominees:

“All About My Mother” (China), dir: Zhao Tianyu
“Any Day Now” (Finland), dir: Hamy Ramezan
“A Morning Of Farewell” (Japan), dir: Izuru Narushima
“A School In Cerro Hueso” (Argentina), dir: Betania Cappato
“A Siege Diary” (Russia), dir: Andrey Zaytsev
“Before Next Spring” (China), dir: Li Gen
“Beyond The Skies” (China), dir: Liu Zhihai
“Caged Birds” (Switzerland, Germany), dir: Oliver Rihs
“Conference” (Russia, Estonia, U.K., Italy), dir: Ivan I. Tversdovskiy
“Last Film Show” (India, France), dir: Pan Nalin
“Moon Rock For Monday” (Australia), dir: Kurt Martin
“Night Of The Kings” (France, Ivory Coast, Canada, Senegal), dir: Philippe Lacote
“No Rest For The Old Lady” (Romania), dir: Andrei Gruzsniczki
“Slalom” (France, Belgium), dir: Charlene Favier
“The Pact” (Denmark), dir: Bille August

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