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Hong Kong’s top filmmaker pulls out of Taiwan’s Oscars after Beijing orders

HONG KONG, CHINA - MARCH 18: Director Johnnie To Kei-fung arrives at the red carpet of the 43rd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) on March 18, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

By: Shirley Zhao, Samson Ellis

(Bloomberg) – One of Hong Kong’s best-known film directors resigned as jury president of a prestigious movie awards event in Taiwan, weeks after Beijing ordered all Chinese artists not to participate in the Nov. 23 show.

Johnnie To’s decision to pull out of the Golden Horse Awards was posted Thursday on a Facebook page of a film festival associated with the awards. The withdrawal of the maker of Cantonese movies such as “Election” and “Running Out of Time” was because of “previously signed film production contractual obligations,” according to the Facebook post.

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The awards, among the highest-profile events for celebrities across the Chinese-speaking film world, have come under fire from authorities in Beijing since last year when Taiwanese director Fu Yue, in her acceptance speech, included comments supporting Taiwan’s independence. China’s Communist Party regards the island as its territory to be taken by force if necessary and has made many attempts to isolate Taiwan and Tsai Ing-wen, its democratically elected, independence-leaning president. Tsai is facing re-election in January.

The move by To, known as the “godfather” of Hong Kong gangster films, also comes during a prolonged period of political unrest in the city. Asia’s financial hub has seen pro-democracy protests since early June, with some of the rallies turning violent. As the confrontation between the city’s Beijing-backed administration and the protesters shows no signs of abating, some local business and cultural elite have voiced support for the government.

Anti-government protesters make way for an ambulance to pass as they attend a demonstration at Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, China, September 15, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The China Film Administration asked Chinese movies, crew, actors and actresses to pull out of the Taiwan awards this year, without citing a reason, state media China Film News posted on its official Weibo account last month.

The executive committee of the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival declined to comment Thursday on whether any Chinese productions have quit the awards. To could not be immediately reached for comment.

Oscar-winning Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who is the chairman of the executive committee of the festival, expressed his understanding of To’s decision, according to the announcement.