Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) is crying foul after Beijing indefinitely suspended screenings of the movie Missing Johnny, whose star Lawrence Ko has evidently been blacklisted for favoring Taiwanese independence.
Missing Johnny is a well-reviewed romance set in Taipei that does not appear to have any particular political subtext. The film was scheduled to open in mainland China on April 14.
Last weekend, users on Weibo (the Chinese analog to Twitter) began gossiping that star Ko Yu-luen, known in the West as Lawrence Ko, supports the pro-independence New Power Party of Taiwan.
“Pro-Taiwanese independence entertainer Lawrence Ko’s movie is screening on April 13. Are you going to let it happen?” one Chinese website asked its readers. Chinese readers were reminded that two other movies have suffered boycotts because Ko had roles in them; his brief role will apparently be edited out of one film, Theory of Ambitions, to placate Chinese audiences.
Among the evidence cited was the membership of the actor’s father, actor and director I-chen Ko, in the party, as well as a screenshot purportedly of a 2015 post on social media in which the younger Ko asked people to support the party. Ko was described as a member of Taiwan’s “Sunflower Movement,” a student group deeply suspicious of China that believes Taiwan should declare independence, and which blocked approval of a trade deal with China by occupying the Taiwanese parliament in 2014.
The China Film Company’s decision to suspend mainland release of Missing Johnny followed calls on Chinese social media to ban the film. China’s state-run Global Times cited Chinese Internet users expressing their support for the ban on Weibo and various mainland news websites and referred to other Taiwanese productions banned for pro-independence views by actors or directors.
A spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office confirmed on Wednesday that Beijing will not permit “the release of films in China whose production includes entertainers who hold pro-Taiwan independence views and propagate pro-Taiwan independence speech.”
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council on Thursday chided Beijing for suppressing Missing Johnny just a month after it announced programs to give Taiwan greater access to Beijing’s film and television market.
“This is just an example showing how inconsistent the Chinese mainland is in its words and deeds,” the Mainland Affairs Council said. “They should not use the political factor to interfere in cross-strait cultural and theatrical exchanges, and should respect cultural and artistic performances.”
The MAC punctuated its critique by advising Taiwanese to be deeply cautious of Chinese enticements to do business on the mainland, warning that the Missing Johnny episode demonstrates how Beijing can suddenly change its mind.