China's first-ever banned film has finally had its public release, after spending almost 60 years under wraps. The film, "The Life of Wu Xun", was released last week via Guangdong Senses Culture Communication Co. Ltd after the company received a copy from a fan of classic films, who asked to remain anonymous.
It is only available on DVD in physical and online bookstores. All copies of the film carry the label "research only" in the left corner of the cover.
The DVD cover of "The Life of Wu Xun"
The film tells the real-life story of Wu Xun, a beggar who lived in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and eventually founded a school for needy children. On the surface, there would seem to be little by way of controversial subject matter in the film, which was shot in 1948 in the struggling Kuomintang-ruled city of Nanking (Nanjing, Jiangsu Province).
After its premier in 1951, the film was soon caught up in ideological disputes, which saw it pilloried as being pro-capitalist, a severe accusation in an era characterized by its black-and-white politics. However, Mao Zedong's criticism of the film, in which he labeled it as carrying a message detrimental to the principles of socialism, was perhaps the main reason behind the banning of the film.
Despite the fact that its reputation was largely restored in the early 1980s, the film had never been publicly released until last week. Commenting on its release, Madam Dai, in charge of programming and copyright at Guangdong Senses Culture Communication Co. Ltd. said: "It's all for the movie fans. I have watched the film, and personally I think there's nothing sensitive, politically. Fans of classic cinema agree with me."
According to Dai, most of her colleagues in the company are young people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, who are insensitive to political issues in old films.
A recent Beijing News report states that, after receiving the copy of the film, whose 50-year copyright expired in 2001, Guangdong Senses Culture Communication Co. Ltd only released several hundred copies for sale. Copies of the film cost from 58 (US13.49) to 99 yuan each, far in excess of the normal 12 to 15 yuan price tag for classic Chinese films.
Despite this, copies of the film rapidly sold out on Amazon.cn. One netizen, who purchased a copy of the DVD for 85 yuan, commented humorously online: "No matter how expensive it is, I'd still buy it for ‘research purposes'."