LOVE scenes have seen perhaps the boldest changes in the 100-year history of Chinese movies, although not always in a desirable direction.
Found quite often in films made in Shanghai between the 1930s and 1940s, kissing and love scenes in general disappeared with little trace from films made after 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded. It was not until after the “cultural revolution” (1966-77) that Chinese filmmakers mustered the courage to attempt love scenes again.
“A Love Story at Lushan Mountain” (Lushan Lian) made in 1980 was the first New China film to present a kissing scene. Although it was simply a kiss on the face.
“Many of my classmates went to see the movie several times, just to enjoy the sweet kiss,” said Sheng Chongming in her 40s.
The first smooch appeared in “Not for Love” (Bushi Weile Aiqing) the same year. In the film, the Chinese lead actor and the Italian lead actress presented a kiss lasting three seconds, enough to be considered a breakthrough at the time.
“Hibiscus Town” (Furong Zhen) from 1986 brought film loves scenes to a new level by presenting a kiss lasting four minutes.
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With China opening further to the outside world, love scenes in mainland films are moving beyond kisses and hugs to even bolder situations. Even today, however, sex scenes are still banned in mainland Chinese movies.
In an interview with Time magazine in 2000, China’s hottest commercial filmmaker, Feng Xiaogang, said:”Because sex is prohibited (in Chinese films), directors have to think hard and creatively to find a way to make the audience feel that even though they don’t see the couple in a sexual situation, something has happened between the two actors. Chinese directors are forced to portray sexual relationships in a more subtle and perhaps more interesting way. Sometimes the love between a man and a woman is based on just one look between them…”
But in recent years, love scenes in mainland movies seem to be flourishing to the point of overflowing. A range of other high-profile films of recent years seemed to be competing to supply tantalizing scenes, the necessity of which were questioned by critics and audiences alike.
“Not knowing where to draw the line between artistic presentation and sexual scenes beyond moral constraints, our filmmakers have found themselves in an embarrassing situation when filming loves scenes,” said Zhen Yiyong, a film researcher with China Research Institute of Arts.
A film rating system has been proposed to government authorities and is being seriously considered. Whether its realization will lead to a more healthy development of love scene filming waits to be seen.