Censor-defying Chinese director at Cannes

BEIJING: Defying the authorities, controversial Chinese director Lou Ye is offering a movie on love and homosexuality at the Cannes film festival this week that was shot on the quiet in east China despite a state work ban.

Lou, who is halfway through a five-year ban on film-making imposed by China censors in 2006, will showcase his newest movie "Spring Fever", his third try for the festival's coveted Palme d'Or award. It is among 20 films competing for the trophy.

The 44-year-old director defied the ban to shoot the movie in just two months in Nanjing city, using a hand-held camera to film three actors whose characters are involved in a sensual love triangle.

Nai An, his faithful producer also under the five-year ban from 2006, nevertheless went ahead and backed "Spring Fever" though voicing concern that this latest film might bring more trouble.

"But all we want to do is make films, we don't want to cause any problems," she told AFP.

The work ban was slapped on Lou and Nai after they brought his previous movie "Summer Palace" -- a steamy love story set around the taboo subject of the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests -- to Cannes in 2006 without official approval.

China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television had refused approval on the grounds the quality of the copy was not up to standard and had technical problems.

But the film was sensitive for China's censors on two fronts -- the issue of the 1989 protests, an event crushed by the army, leaving hundreds and possibly thousands dead, as well as a large number of sex scenes.

"Spring Fever" however could prove his most controversial film yet, shot as it was during a work ban, and dealing with homosexuality in China -- a subject still taboo in the country.

Chen Sicheng, an actor in the film, said that for both reasons the movie would be banned in China.

The 31-year-old actor from Shenyang in northeast China acknowledged too that playing in the film might bring him trouble, pointing to previous warnings given to the two protagonists of "Summer Palace" by state censors.

But he said filming, in spring 2008, had gone smoothly, without interference from officials.

The movie has also been financed by French and Hong Kong investors, and has been submitted to the Cannes festival as a Hong Kong and French-made movie.

According to Chen, working for the widely respected if banned director was too tempting an experience to refuse.

"He is a pioneer, and he has the courage not to give way to society," he told AFP.

Lou is no stranger to controversy.

His first film in 1993 was banned for two years and he was unable to work for two years after making "Suzhou River" in 2000, a tragic love story prohibited from view in China.

He returned to favour in 2003 with "Purple Butterfly" starring international star Zhang Ziyi, but "Summer Palace" proved too controversial for censors, despite Lou insisting it was a love story and not a political tract.

Nai, who stated that "Spring Fever" was filmed on the quiet like all other Lou films and not because of the ban, was nevertheless critical of China's censorship rules.

"China's film censorship system must change, it must at least get rid of this provision of banning filming," she said.

Chen meanwhile said he was confident the censorship system would get better with the help of people like Lou. "This type of person is needed (for the film industry)," he said.

"The film industry is becoming more and more commercialised, but there is no one that wants to change this, to experiment."

China's film administration did not respond to questions faxed by AFP.