China changes Oscar entry

French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (right) arriving for a red carpet event during the opening ceremony of the fifth Beijing International Film Festival.
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (right) arriving for a red carpet event during the opening ceremony of the fifth Beijing International Film Festival.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • Beijing authorities have dropped Sino-French co-production Wolf Totem as China's foreign-language Oscar submission at the last minute in favour of a romantic comedy, reports said, apparently over concerns that it is insufficiently Chinese.

Wolf Totem, directed by acclaimed French auteur JeanJacques Annaud, is in Mandarin and Mongolian with Chinese actors and was filmed in China.

It is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, recounting the time author Lu Jiamin spent as a "sent-down" youth among nomads in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution, and his attempts to raise a wolf in captivity.

Chinese media had said it would be submitted to the Academy Awards as its candidate for the 2016 foreign-language Oscar.

But China Film News, a state-run paper managed by broadcasting authorities, said it has been replaced with Go Away Mr Tumor.

That more popcorn-friendly movie, based on a true story, depicts a young woman who suffers from cancer but seeks to live life to the fullest.

It stars popular actors Daniel Wu and Bai Baihe and has taken more than 500 million yuan (S$110 million) at the Chinese box office.

China Film News reported that the decision was made because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Wolf Totem - which had four screenwriters, only one of them Chinese - lacked sufficient Chinese nationals or residents in creative roles to be eligible.

But the change surprised even Han Yan, director of Go Away Mr Tumor, who wrote on Chinese social media: "I didn't know about this until I saw it on the news!"

Online commentators were incredulous on Monday. "Are you sure this isn't a joke?" asked one Weibo poster.

Another said Go Away Mr Tumor is too lightweight to be a feasible choice: "It's a bit too much about positive energy rather than deep meaning."

The Academy picks nominees for the foreign-language Oscar from submissions from individual countries, which can put forward only one candidate each year.

Chinese contenders are chosen by the secretive State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which does not publicise its criteria.

Last year, it picked another Sino-French co-production, The Nightingale, which also has a French director.

The only Chinese movie to be shortlisted for an Oscar is Zhang Yimou's Hero, which was among the nominees in 2003.

Annaud won the 1976 Oscar for Best Foreign Film with a submission for the Ivory Coast titled Black And White In Color.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'China changes Oscar entry'. Print Edition | Subscribe