A Controversial Film Had Its Title Censored During a Screening at Hong Kong’s M+ Museum

The requirement by official censors has raised eyebrows among Hong Kong's filmmaking community.

Zhang Yuan, A Film by Zhang Yuan (1993). Photo: courtesy of the filmmaker and M+.

The M+ museum of visual culture in Hong Kong was ordered to censor the name of the 1993 film Beijing Bastards by popular Chinese director Zhang Yuan. The movie was instead screened under the title “A film by Zhang Yuan” and its opening sequence was edited to remove any mention of the original name.

Some pronunciations of bastard in Cantonese Chinese, which is widely spoken in Hong Kong, sound very similar to the phrase “Chief Xi.” This could be seen as a barely veiled reference to China’s leader Xi Jinping.

Hong Kong’s Office for Film, Newspaper, and Article Administration must approve all films before they are licensed to be shown in public, but it never comments on specific cases. This act of censorship raised eyebrows among the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers. One spokesperson, Tenky Tin Kai-man, commented, “One has to wonder, how can you sell tickets for a film without disclosing its name?”

“I have never heard of a requirement like this,” he added, as quoted in the South China Morning Post. “If a film is banned, then the whole film is banned and not just the name. And how does this sit with the Trade Descriptions Ordinance?”

“The film title was updated by filmmaker Zhang Yuan and [the] M+ curatorial team to highlight the filmmaker’s presence in [the program],” claimed a spokesperson for M+.

The film has never been publicly screened in mainland China, although it has also never been submitted to the China Film Bureau so it has never technically been either approved or banned from theatrical release. However, Chinese authorities did succeed in shutting down a planned screening of the film at Hong Kong International Film Festival in 1994.

When Zhang himself made an appearance at the film’s screening at M+ last week, he was asked why he picked Beijing Bastards as its title. He said he found this phrase “suitably ruthless,” according to SCMP. The gritty, highly improvised film explores disillusionment among young people in the 1990s by following a rock musician and his gang of bohemian friends.

Zhang Yuan, A Film by Zhang Yuan (1993). Photo: courtesy of the filmmaker and M+.

Characters like these could be associated with the era’s emerging antiestablishment subculture, the same kind of young protestors who became involved in the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. In 2021, Hong Kong’s Film Censorship Ordinance was updated with new guidelines encouraging the restriction of films that contain “any act or activity which may amount to an offense endangering national security.”

Zhang Yuan, A Film by Zhang Yuan (1993). Photo: courtesy of the filmmaker and M+.

Beijing Bastards was screened at M+ on January 19 and will be screened again on February 18 as part of the museum’s “One Upon a Time in Beijing” series.


More Trending Stories:  

Artists to Watch This Month: 10 Solo Gallery Exhibitions to See In New York Before the End of the Year 

Art Dealers Christina and Emmanuel Di Donna on Their Special Holiday Rituals 

Stefanie Heinze Paints Richly Ambiguous Worlds. Collectors Are Obsessed 

Inspector Schachter Uncovers Allegations Regarding the Latest Art World Scandal—And It’s a Doozy 

Archaeologists Call Foul on the Purported Discovery of a 27,000-Year-Old Pyramid 

The Sprawling Legal Dispute Between Yves Bouvier and Dmitry Rybolovlev Is Finally Over 

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.