Selection of lightweight comedy for Oscars shocks film director

Selection of lightweight comedy for Oscars shocks film director
Audiences watch a screening of "Go Away Mr Tumor" in a theater in Jinan, Shandong province. The romantic comedy is China's official submission for the Oscars instead of "Wolf Totem," thought to be in the reckoning for long. [Photos provided to China Daily]

The surprise choice of 'Go Away Mr Tumor' instead of 'Wolf Totem' as China's official entry for this year's Oscars has shocked local filmmakers, who say the Academy's rules 'aren't clear.'

Young Chinese director Han Yan was stunned to learn that his romantic comedy 'Go Away Mr Tumor' is China's official submission for the Oscars.

The list of 81 movies, which are accepted for this year's best foreign language film, was announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Oct 8.

It was also a surprise for industry observers that China's longtime favorite, 'Wolf Totem,' was not chosen, as its core creative team had too many non-Chinese members.

'Go Away Mr Tumor,' adapted from the biography of the late cartoonist, Xiong Dun, has been chosen instead of the Sino-French coproduction 'Wolf Totem.'

The comedy 'Tumor,' however, is widely regarded as a lightweight effort lacking the gravity to be in contention for one of the world's highest honors in the movie business.

"I never expected my works to be connected to the Oscars ... I was pretty shocked, not exactly excited or delighted the moment I heard the news," says Han, 32, during a telephone interview with China Daily.

The director says he didn't realize that when the film's producer Wanda Pictures asked him to hand in his resume and profile photos they were for the Oscars' application.

"No one told me ... until I received the media calls. To be honest, I knew very little about the selection process and judging standards for the Oscars foreign language race ... I've recently increased my knowledge about it thanks to numerous interviews," he says.

Han says he is not affected by any controversy over its nomination and will continue to focus on the commercial genre. He says he will not focus on such speculations.

Oscars controversy

While the last-minute change has sparked debate in the country, this is not the first time that a Chinese-language movie has been deemed ineligible by the Academy in the foreign language film category.

In 2007, Oscar-winning auteur Ang Lee's 'Lust, Caution,' which was selected as Taiwan's submission, was not considered as an entry in the category for a similar reason -- the crime thriller did not have enough number of locals participating in the production.

In 'Wolf Totem,' though the cast is overwhelmingly Chinese and it is co-produced by the country's industry giant, China Film Group, the animal-themed film has slew of international names on its key creative staff list.

Alongside French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, three of the four scriptwriters are foreign -- two French and one British. The movie's music director is American composer James Roy Horner, the cinematography is by French photographer Jean-Marie Dreujou and film editing is done by French Reynald Bertrand. The names in the sound department and visual effects are mainly from the West.

Meanwhile, some industry experts say the Oscar rule is "ambiguous" as there is no stipulation on the ratio of locals to foreigners in a production.

The rule only requires that "the submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country".

Last year, China's selection for the best foreign language film was Sino-French title 'The Nightingale' by French director Philippe Muyl, making it the first time that a non-Chinese auteur would represent the country at the Oscars. The Academy agreed to the submission but the arthouse film failed to make the cut in the nomination process.

For some domestic critics, last year's selection could explain the reason behind this year's original choice by the country's film selection regulator, which reportedly has a nine-member expert team to select films and make a decision.

Around a month ago, 'Wolf Totem' faced a powerful rival when the makers of this year's Cannes-nominated 'Mountains May Depart' announced that they would apply for the Oscars.

The arthouse drama's director Jia Zhangke is a longtime favorite of the international film circuit. However, the veteran filmmaker soon quit the race after he was told 'Mountains' would not be selected by the country's film authority.

A recent consensus view of domestic media outlets, film critics and online users was that 'Mountains' is more qualified than 'Go Away Mr Tumor.'

Gao Qunshu, a veteran filmmaker calls the change a "humiliation" for the Chinese movie industry on his Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

Tan Fei, a veteran film critic and film producer, says 'Tumor' has a very slim chance of getting to the next round in the Oscars best foreign language movie category, which will see nine movies selected from 81 entries. The winner will be selected from five of the nine films.

Two other Chinese-language movies selected for the same race are Hong Kong director Dante Lam's sports game-themed drama 'To the Fore' and Taiwan master auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien's historical epic 'The Assassin' that won Hou the best director award at this year's Cannes festival.

The 2016 Oscar nominations will be announced in January.

The winners will be declared in late February at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.