In September, the Chinese release of Feng Xiaogang’s Youth, a coming-of-age drama about young people making peace with the past, was abruptly shelved ahead of the Middle Kingdom’s lucrative National Day holiday. In the wake of that move, U.S. distributor China Lion was obliged to postpone its planned run. Both are now back on with a December 15 day-and-date release set in the Middle Kingdom and North America.
The period epic from Huyai Brothers screened at the Toronto Film Festival in September, but its China theatrical run was later nixed as a result of “discussions with the film administration bureau and other relevant parties,” according to a statement from Feng’s production house. The move was thought to be politically motivated — at the time, a story Deadline wrote to that effect had appeared on social media in China, and was subsequently scrubbed, we were told.
It was believed that the movie would ultimately see the inside of theaters, but it was also believed that Youth had fallen victim to the timing of the National Congress of the Communist Party which was coming up a few weeks later. USC Professor Stanley Rosen, who specializes in China, told Deadline at the time, “The fear of protest before the Congress may well be the biggest concern.”
Youth is a tribute to veterans of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war. That border conflict was Deng Xiaoping’s response to Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978 which overthrew the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge. Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia until 1989 and the incursion has not been seen as a Chinese victory by outside observers. Some veterans have staged protests in Beijing in past years, demanding compensation and unhappy with the way they have been treated in the time since.
The movie chronicles the joys and travails of a provincial military-arts troupe — soldiers in the People’s Liberation Army whose duty it is to promote culture, revolutionary values, music and dance. At the center of the story is He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) a talented dancer from Beijing with a painful family history. Due to her innocence and social status, she quickly becomes a scapegoat and laughing stock amongst her peers. As time passes and the group gradually splinters apart, however, her life takes unexpected turns and she emerges a true heroine.
The film will now release in China during what is typically a blackout period where imports are sidelined. Feng has had success in the corridor, with such titles as Personal Tailor and If You Are The One. December 15 is also the day the rest of the world will be getting a new look at a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening everywhere that week except the Middle Kingdom.