The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed its final list of 81 submissions for the Foreign Language Oscar race at the end of last week with at least one surprise in the mix that I’ve now gotten to the bottom of. China had been expected to submit Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wolf Totem as its entry, and indeed it did. But the film was quietly disqualified under Academy Awards rules Section II, E: “The submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country.”
Wolf Totem is a Chinese-French co-production in Mandarin and Mongolian and with a French director in Annaud and only one Chinese screenwriter out of four credited. It was essentially deemed not Chinese enough to be eligible. So, on October 6, I’ve learned, China submitted Go Away Mr Tumor which is now the official entry. In cases of disqualification, countries are allowed to submit another film per Acad rules.
Decidely more audience friendly, Go Away Mr Tumor (see trailer below) is the second feature directed by Han Yan and stars Monster Hunt’s Bai Baihe and Warcraft’s Daniel Wu. It was the No. 2 film at the international box office when it bowed in August to a $21.5M frame and went on to gross more than $80M. Based on the comic series created by the cartoonist Xiong Dun, it’s a romantic comedy that chronicles the author’s real-life struggle with a malignant tumor.
The selection surprised director Han, who reportedly wrote on Chinese social media, “I didn’t know about this until I saw it on the news!.” According to AFP, some online commenters have reacted unfavorably to the selection, considering it “too lightweight to be a feasible choice.”
Wolf Totem was also a box office hit, scoring $32.3M after just its first four days during the Lunar New Year period last February and ultimately grossing over $120M worldwide. It’s based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, recounting the time the author spent as a “sent-down” youth among nomads in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution and his attempts to raise a wolf in captivity.
This isn’t the first bout of controversy surrounding this year’s submission. Director Jia Zhangke told the South China Morning Post last month that he was hoping for a shot at the slot. His Mountains May Depart was given a qualifying run in early September. He told the paper, “I’ve heard rumors that Wolf Totem has been confirmed as the representative. But I feel that couldn’t be right. It’s not over until October 1.” Wolf Totem‘s producer later reportedly slammed the notion on social media.
China’s Oscar entries are selected by media authority SAPPRFT. Last year, another Chinese-French co-pro, The Nightingale, qualified under Academy rules to be the official entry. It was directed by France’s Philippe Muyl but did not make the shortlist. China has had two nominees for the prize, most recently with Zhang Yimou’s Hero in 2002. Annaud won the Foreign Language Oscar in 1977 for Black And White In Color which hailed from Ivory Coast.
Here’s the Go Away Mr Tumor trailer with English subtitles: