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Updated: April 6, 2013 16:34 IST

Commentary through comedy

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Tang Wei.
Tang Wei.

Sensitive social issues finally get showcased in China.

Film directors in China have to walk a fine line. Any film that directly takes on social or political issues is unlikely to make it pass the censors, and will find itself limited to the thriving but unprofitable underground DVD market.

Directors who want the support of wealthy State-run distributors are consequently limited to making period dramas (which are, however, increasingly out of sync with modern sensibilities), action flicks or romantic comedies. All three categories have found it difficult to compete with Hollywood imports, which now make up more than half the booming Chinese market.

The challenge facing Chinese directors, therefore, is finding a way to remain relevant while, at the same time, satisfying the censors. One director has appeared to have hit upon a solution. Beijing Film Academy professor Xue Xiaolu’s “Finding Mr. Right”, starring popular actress Tang Wei, is currently breaking records at the box office. Ostensibly a romantic comedy, the film’s success, however, is in its relevance and subtlety.

The plot revolves around themes that censors would usually find too “sensitive”, telling the story of a pregnant young woman, played by Ms. Tang, who travels to the United States to illegally give birth to avoid Chinese government restrictions (a phenomenon that recently came to light when the U.S. police busted illegal “birthing centres” in California).

The narrative touches upon almost every burning social issue that Chinese are debating today, from family planning and corruption — Ms. Tang plays the role of a mistress of a seemingly well-connected and corrupt Beijing businessman — to housing prices (“The cost of one house in America won’t even buy me two bathrooms in Beijing!”, she laments memorably).

The Communist Party-run Global Times wrote, appearing somewhat surprised that a film “dealing with sensitive social issues” made it past censors, “Luckily, writer and director Xue Xiaolu chose to merge these themes into a romantic comedy”. For China’s directors, it seems, comedy offers a new route to commentary.

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