"Lust, Caution" star Tang Wei's role in a Chinese propaganda blockbuster as the first love of communist China's founder, Mao Zedong, reportedly has 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 Miss Tang international exposure, her role as a student activist who warns a Japan-allied Chinese intelligence official about an assassination attempt apparently offended Chinese film officials.
"Lust" director Ang Lee was asked to edit dialogue to make the warning from Miss Tang's character less explicit. Miss Tang herself reportedly was blacklisted, not releasing another movie until last year's Hong Kong-set romantic comedy "Crossing Hennessy."
In September, Miss 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," a propaganda blockbuster 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 Miss Tang was left out of the final cut.
Gao Jun, deputy general manager of the Chinese theater operator New Film Association, told the Associated Press in a phone interview last week that Miss Tang's role was cut because historians questioned the factual accuracy of her character. He cited "industry insiders" but declined to identify them.
Mr. Gao said the decision had nothing to do with her role in "Lust, Caution."
"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 Miss Tang was no longer listed in the credits printed in the film's latest publicity materials, although a production photo of her character was still posted on the site.
Production notes recently sent to the AP by the movie's Hong Kong publicists also left out Miss Tang from a list of actors that included 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."
Jiang Defu, spokesman for government-owned studio China Film Group, declined to comment, asking a reporter to watch the movie when it is released.
Miss Tang's Hong Kong management company didn't immediately return a call from the AP on Thursday.
Miss 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.
It wasn't clear whether "Dragon" has cleared Chinese censors. Mr. Chan's production company, Applause Pictures, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Besides the release of "Jian Dang Wei Ye," news reports said earlier this month that media regulators have also ordered broadcasters to show "outstanding" TV series in sync with party themes as part of the propaganda buildup before the July 1 anniversary of the party's founding. TV stations reportedly have been prohibited from airing spy and crime thrillers from May to July.
"Jian Dang Wei Ye" is the second star-studded Chinese propaganda film in recent years. China Film Group also released "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, 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-list stars such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Mr. 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.
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