These are challenging times for film exhibition and distribution. One day there is cautious optimism that cinemas can re-open with distancing guidelines … and the next, edicts are issued saying that they must remain closed. How do you work in an environment like that?
Consider the checkered history of director Hu Mei’s Enter the Forbidden City as just one example. The film opened at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June of 2018 and captured awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Zou Jingzhi — Coming Home, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles) and Best Actor (Dalong Fu — Purple Sunset). An impressive launch!!
The film then proceeded to work the festival circuit for entire year, piling up more accolades along the way before opening theatrically in Mainland China, where it did quite well. In November of this past year, the domestic trades were ablaze with the news that Cinema Libre had scored a major coup and had acquired Enter the Forbidden City for theatrical exhibition and home entertainment distribution in the domestic marketplace.
Coupled with this acquisition announcement was the news that Enter the Forbidden City had just scored Best Director and Best Picture wins at the Chinese American Film Festival in Los Angeles.
So there you have it. A stunning film, award-winning, already exhibited successfully in China and now poised for a domestic theatrical launch … what could possibly go wrong?
We all know the answer to that. In mid-March all theatres in the United States shut down and despite Cinema Libre’s best efforts to find a path forward, in terms of theatrical exhibition, it has become clear that if the major “Hollywood” studios can’t get their films launched theatrically, how can an indie!
Cinema Libre announced this past week that it will forego further efforts to exhibit the film theatrically and instead move Enter the Forbidden City into the domestic home entertainment packaged media arena on Aug. 18 as both DVD and Blu-ray product offerings.
As to the film itself, this is a labor-of-love dramatic telling of the history of origins of the “Peking Opera” (Beijing). It took filmmaker Hu Mei six years to complete the film — which was interrupted for an entire year when the Anhui Province studio they were working with burned to the ground, destroying all of the costumes that were being used in the production … they had to be replaced and the studio rebuilt!
During the Qing Dynasty, Yui Jiu (Dalong Fu) is the most famous of all of the opera singers in Imperial China, but his personal excesses get him banned from Peking. While in exile in the Anhui Province, word arrives that a magnificent birthday celebration for Emperor Qianlong (his 80th birthday) will be staged and opera troupes from all over the land are invited to compete.
Yui Jiu sees this as an opportunity to regain his fame. The performers from Anhui have a unique approach and he sees this as a way to set them apart from the others competing in the grand competition. History records that he was correct in his assessment and the famous “Peking Opera” was born.
Enter the Forbidden City, is a rich re-telling of the story and is peppered with magnificent performances. The film is presented in Mandarin with English subtitles.