"Lust, Caution" star Tang Wei’s role in a Chinese propaganda blockbuster as the first love of Communist China’s founding father, Mao Zedong, has reportedly been dropped, raising the prospect that the actress is still suffering backlash after playing a traitor in the 2007 World War II-era spy thriller.
While "Lust, Caution" gave Tang international exposure, her role as a student activist who warns a Japan-allied Chinese intelligence official about an assassination attempt allegedly offended Chinese film officials worried about lingering anger over Japanese wartime atrocities.
The film’s director, Ang Lee, who won an Oscar for the gay romance "Brokeback Mountain," was asked to edit dialogue so as to make the warning from Tang’s character less explicit. And Tang herself was reportedly blacklisted, not releasing another movie until last year’s Hong Kong-set romantic comedy "Crossing Hennessy."
In September, Tang’s casting as Mao’s girlfriend was announced, signaling her rehabilitation in China. She joined a star-studded cast in "Jian Dang Wei Ye," scheduled for release on June 15 to mark the 90th anniversary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese title translates roughly as "The Great Achievement of Founding the Party." The official English title is "Beginning of the Great Revival."
But as the release date nears, reports have surfaced that Tang was left out of the final cut.
Gao Jun, deputy general manager of Chinese theater operator New Film Association, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that Tang’s role was cut because historians questioned the factual accuracy of her character. He cited "industry insiders," but declined to identify them.
Gao, however, said the decision had nothing to do with her "Lust, Caution" role.
"It’s not a problem with the actress," he said.
A news report posted on the official website for "Jian Dang Wei Ye" on Thursday said Tang was no longer listed in the credits printed in the film’s latest publicity materials — although a production photo of Tang’s character was still posted on the site.
Production notes recently sent to the AP by the movie’s Hong Kong publicists also left out Tang from a list of actors that includes Hong Kong veterans Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau and director John Woo.
Mao is played by Chinese actor Liu Ye, best known to Western audiences for his roles in the Zhang Yimou imperial drama "Curse of the Golden Flower" and the drama "Dark Matter," which costarred Meryl Streep.
Jiang Defu, the spokesman for government-owned studio China Film Group, declined to comment, asking a reporter to watch the movie when it is released.
Tang’s Hong Kong management company didn’t immediately return a call from the AP on Thursday.
Tang has another scheduled Chinese release this year. The Peter Chan martial arts picture "Dragon," which co-stars Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro, is scheduled to hit Chinese theaters Aug. 3.
In addition to the release of "Jian Dang Wei Ye," news reports said earlier this month that media regulators have ordered broadcasters to show "outstanding" TV series in synch with party themes as part of the propaganda buildup before the July 1 anniversary of the party’s founding.
China Film Group also released another star-studded propaganda film, "The Founding of a Republic," in 2009 to mark the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China.
While propaganda films were once considered boring and outdated fare, especially by youngsters, China Film Group has been able to reinvigorate the genre by injecting star power, and in the process lending credibility to its version of history. The Chinese-language film industry’s biggest stars have been happy to comply, eager to please film officials who hold sway over the country’s fast-growing theatrical market. A-listers like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Lau had cameo appearances in "The Founding of a Republic," which went on to make a whopping $62 million in China, helped by politically correct theater operators who flooded their properties with screenings.
China Film Group is eager to replicate that success with "Jian Dang Wei Ye." Shot in locations across China, Paris and Moscow and set from 1911 to 1921, the film describes the "spectacular stories" of how Mao and his colleagues "gave everything for their country during turbulent times," according to an official synopsis issued by Hong Kong publicists.
Cadillac is a sponsor of "Jian Dang Wei Ye," raising American criticism of a partly US government-funded company backing Chinese Communist propaganda. General Motors, which owns the Cadillac brand, was a beneficiary of the 2009 car industry bailouts.
China Film Group spokesman Jiang said Cadillac has a multiyear cooperation deal with the studio not limited to "Jian Dang Wei Ye." He said the company has helped "publicize and promote" the movie but no Cadillac cars appear in the film. He declined to give the value of the deal.
General Motors said in a statement that the sponsorship was initiated by its Chinese joint venture and described it as "part of a strategic alignment with the film industry, similar to alliances made by other companies."