Censorship in China - Part 1: The Hidden Sword
The martial arts film The Hidden Sword by Xao Haofeng (The Final Master) was already completed in 2017 and approved by China's censors. It was also equipped with the Dragon Seal, the prerequisite for a theatrical release in China.
The film takes place in the 1930’s and shows how a unit of Chinese soldiers, armed only with swords, fends off an attack by the Japanese on the Great Wall of China. Also the following conflicts about the successors of their leader and his sword fighting arts are addressed.
The film had its premiere at the film festival in Montréal in 2017 and even won a prize for "Best Artistic Contribution". But the official release in its home country was pending since, allegedly due to creative differences between the director and his team. After almost two years, however, a theatrical release was announced for summer 2019 and was cancelled in July only four days before the release.
The IMDb lists a recut theatrical version with only 118 minutes as running time in addition to the 137-minute original version. Since most of the reports about the 2019 theatrical version are in Chinese, we can't verify that, but have no reason to question the drastic difference of almost 20 minutes.
The reason for the withdrawal was the current market conditions in the cinema business, which, however, is generally understood only as a euphemism for intervention by the censors. Since the release of the Dragon Seal two years ago, a lot has happened in the Chinese state apparatus. Among other things, another department of the Communist Party is now responsible for censorship, which cares less about films and more about the party line.
Historical films from the first half of the 20th century often show China's struggle against the Japanese occupation and get into a political dilemma. At the same time, there was a civil war in China, which was interrupted by a standstill agreement for the war against Japan, but before and after that it was fought violently between the troops of the Republic of China and the Communist Party of China. In the end, the CPC gained control of China's mainland and proclaimed the People's Republic of China in 1949, while the Republic of China withdrew to Taiwan. Films at that time, which may show heroes of the Republic of China, have it harder and harder in China. There is a clear desire on the part of the CPC not to portray the war opponents of the time in a positive light.
It is unclear whether the film will still be shown in cinemas at some point.