Wolf Totem dropped as China's Oscar submission, comedy Go Away Mr Tumor picked: reports

French director Jean-Jacques Annaud arrives on the green carpet before the screening of Wolf Totem at the Zurich Film Festival.
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud arrives on the green carpet before the screening of Wolf Totem at the Zurich Film Festival. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - 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 it was insufficiently Chinese.

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

It is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, recounting the time the author 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 the country's candidate for the 2016 foreign language Oscar.

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

That more popcorn-friendly movie, based on a true story, depicts a young woman suffering from cancer but who seeks to live life to the full. It stars popular heart-throbs Daniel Wu and Bai Baihe, and has taken more than 500 million yuan (S$110 million) at the Chinese box office.

The China Film News reported the decision was made because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had 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, the 31-year-old 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 was 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 only put forward 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 had a French director.

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

Annaud previously won the 1976 Oscar for Best Foreign Film with a submission for the Ivory Coast.