The Steamed Bun Lawsuit

There have been some legal repercussions for the author of "The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun".  However, there is a great deal of speculation as to the true motivations of the various principals in this affair.  Here are the translations of several pieces on the subject -- above all, you should keep an eye on the public relations angle because the case does not make much sense otherwise.

(Hexun)  A Steamed Bun Triggers A Lawsuit.  February 16, 2006.

Did the popular short Internet film The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun infringed upon the intellectual rights of the movie The Promise.  State Copyright Bureau chief Wang Ziqiang said on the 15th that this case will depend on whether the work exceeded the boundary of reasonable use, and that should be resolved by the judicial department to determine in the civil suit.

In his response to a question from a reporter, Wang Ziqiang said that from the viewpoint of copyright law, if the work is used to present or demonstrate a viewpoint by appropriately using a small excerpt, that would be admissible.  That is to say, the usage is within reasonable.  But when the case is beyond just presentation or demonstration and a large amount of the work is used, then this is not allowed under the law.

What happens when you find your copyright has been violated on the Internet?  State Copyright Bureau deputy director Yan Xiaohuan responded: As soon as you find the copyright violation, you should collect the evidence, preferably witnessed by a public notary.  Afterwards, there are several methods of solution: one, through the judicial syste; two, if the violated work is broadly disseminated and it affects the public interest, the State Copyright Bureau Administrative Department can handle the complaint from the copyright owner.


Today, the reporter contacted Hu Ge.  He said that he has seen the position of the State Copyright Bureau.  "I very much agree with the position.  It is very reasonable.  Whether I violated the copyright or made unreasonable use is not up to what people now say.  It should be decided by the judicial department."  Hu Ge said that all his work has stopped on account of the lawsuit.

In his February 14 blog post, Hu Ge wrote a letter to his supporters titled "Thanks To Everybody For Their Support On The Lawsuit":  "I am really grateful.  But before going to court, I do not wish to make any comments about the lawsuit.  I hope that you understand."  The reporter observed that the blog was started on February 10, but the total number of visits has gone past 30,000 already in just a few days.

(Massage Milk)  Who Is More Shameless?  February 12, 2006.

Chen Kaige has sued Hu Ge!

If this item on is not a piece of false news, then I believed this may become one of the most shameless acts in the history of Chinese cinema.  People might have seen that Chen Kaige was unable to produce another movie that can surpass "Farewell, My Concubine" in recent years.  When challenged by the media that this representative figure of the fifth generation of Chinese movie-makers is failing to live up to his reputation, he gets worried.  So he got together an investment of 250 million yuan to regain his reputation and status and to prove that the name Chen Kaige was worthy.  In his eyes, The Promise was perfect and not subject to any criticism.  Before the movie went out, someone asked him whether it was possible for this movie not to do well at the box office and he threw a fit.

Lu Xun had a story which is realized in the person of Chen Kaige.  For someone with a mind like that, he cannot allow an ordinary spectator to make a joke about him.  Do you few that he can produce a good movie?  He said: "I feel that a person cannot be as shameless to this point."  Was he talking about Hu Ge or himself?  I checked the comments left by the netizens.  On this occasion, the netizens were surprisingly unanimous.  This is the discussion in which the public opinion were the most unanimous in the entire history of  What does this say?  The people support Hu Ge.

The emergence of parodies tells something -- that people are skeptical of and disgusted with mainstream culture.  They have no choice about the things that are forced upon them.  The Chinese people are pitiful because they only see just a few Chinese-made movies each year without any choice.  They are disgusted with the sham that is mainstream culture but they have no choice.  But they don't have the right to speak out, so the consequence of this disgust is to deconstructive methods to "bring down" the manufactured products.  After the Beijing Olympic mascots were presented, even designer Han Meilin was disappointed and the people even more so.  How could you come up with these ugly mascots?  But if I don't like yours, what can I like?

When The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun appeared, it marks a new high for the deconstructive art of the people.  It serves Chen Kaige right.  If you want to deconstruct something, what better choice than him?  I observed the response to this broadband item on the Internet as well as mainstream media, and it was elating and pleasing to people.  Why?  Because many people had been fooled to come watch The Promise in the movie houses and they were disappointed.  Let us say a white-collar worker in a company, a restaurant server or a bus conductor thought that they were fooled.  What can they do?  What can they possibly do?  They cannot do anything.  But after they watch The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun, they may feel less irate and much better.  What higher demand do the people have?  None, because all they want is to be able to have a good laugh from the bottom of their heart.  But Chen Kaige would not even let them have that satisfaction.  Who do you think you are?  Frankly, after someone watched The Promise, whether they praise it or criticize it is irrelevant because that won't changed the facts.  But for the many who do not have the right to speak, they ought to have the right to construct it.

I don't know if Chen Kaige has seen Scary Movie.  This was an interesting deconstruction of previous horror movies.  I don't know if Chen Kaige knows about a character named Al Yankowitz.  He specializes in adopting other people's songs for his own use.  He takes the current hit songs, changes their lyrics and makes fun of people.  Mr. Chen, do you know that?  The top star singers in the United States crane their necks in the hope that Al Yankowitz might deconstruct their songs, because it would be an honor.  But instead you go and sue the unarmed Hu Ge who has ticked you.  It seems that you no longer know what pain is, and how can an artist who does not understand pain create art?

Logically, Mikhail Romm should have sued CCTV's News Commentary Department led by Cui Rongyuan for butchering a great film such as "Lenin in October."  It was disrespectful towards Lenin and it was disrespectful towards socialism.  Do you Chen Kaige think that you are greater than Lenin?

I feel too that "Man cannot be as shameless as this."  But I believe that this sentence will be the most representative "voice" of 2006.

(Massage Milk)  This Is Still Related To Shamelessness.  February 13, 2006.

Yesterday I wrote "Who Is More Shameless."  Someone made a response immediately.  A netizen named Yadi wrote a post titled "Support Chen Kaige to sue Hu Ge, but it has nothing to do with shamelessness."  The essay asserts that Hu Ge was going to lose with certainty from the legal point of view if Chen Kaige pursues this case.  The People's Republic Of China Writing Rights Article 46 Item 4 refers to "distorting and misrepresentation other people's work" "should incur civil responsibilities such as promising to cease the violation, eliminate the influence, apologize, compensate for losses and so on in accordance with the actual situation."

From the legal point of view, Hu Ge has no justification.  Although I studied law in university and although I gave the law back selflessly to each of my teachers, I understand the most basic issues of the law.  I did not want to discuss the law not because I wanted people to support Hu Ge while ignoring the law, but because I want people to see the true nature of Chen Kaige.

After finishing "A Hard Day's Night," I told everybody -- if someone sues us for violations of rights, they will win because the six songs and the one bank robbery clip were all unauthorized.  Similarly, The Bloody Case That Started From A Stream Bun did not have the permission of Chen Kaige.  That is obvious, for how could he permit it?

While informing the citizens about the law is important, it is also important to watch how evil a director with exhausted talents can be.

The key to the problem is, Why does Chen Kaige want to sue Hu Ge?

First, it is like an old lady picking persimmon fruits.  She is going to squeeze them and pick the softest one.  But Chen Kaige wanted to sue Hu Ge for violating his author's rights, it is legally proper and Hu Ge will lose the case with certainty.  But I have to ask why Chen Kaige is not suing all those pirate editions of his movie?  Those pirated copies caused Chen even more direct economic losses.  Obviously, he could not sue and he dare not sue a pirate merchant.  Does he want to continue doing business?  Even if he did sue, he must know what the involved costs are.  Therefore, he took the easy way out and sue Hu Ge, an intellectual with no background.  This is like us making our movie -- it is a zero cost.  Furthermore, he is going to win for sure.  See how great he is!

Let us hypothesize -- if Hu Ge turned The Promise into a video that made fun of Zhang Yimou.  Do you think Chen Kaige would sue him?  Would he be as mean and nasty as he is now?  Of course not.  He might even be smirking.  Or if Hu Ge turned The Promise into a movie that praises a harmonious society.  Would Chen Kaige sue him?  Not.  Therefore, it should be clear here that Chen Kaige is being so tough here because the deconstruction in The Steamed Bun has caused him tremendous embarrassment.  But he cannot sue on the grounds of damage to his reputation.  His reputation has indeed been damaged, but he cannot sue on that basis.  Therefore, The Steamed Bun had irritated Chen Kaige more because of his reputation.

Second, Chen Kaige understood that if he sued on the grounds of damage to his reputation, victory was not certain.  So why not sue on the basis of copyright violation?  It is the same individual and the goal is the same -- the person is put away.  Furthermore, he will have a good reason and he can even back off without any problems.  Thus, he is saying one thing while he has something else in mind.

Does everybody knows whether The Steamed Bun caused greater damage to Chen Kaige's rights or his reputation?  Even an idiot would know, so how could Chen Kaige not know?

We have gone around a circle.  Although this seems to be a legal issue, it is still related to shamelessness.

Therefore, the people must support Hu Ge.

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  If Hu Ge goes bankrupt, we will donate money.  By Yu Qiao.  February 14, 2006.

Many of you have seen The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun.  I don't know what you think, but I was thoroughly conquered by Hu Ge.  I really want to pat the guy on the shoulder and tell him in local dialect: "You are a genius!"  How can you take the events and characters in The Promise and put them into CCTV's China Legal Reports program while turning the difficult into the obvious and the bitterness into laughter.  How come I could not think that up?  Yet, I am displeased because I heard during the last couple of days that our "People's Artist" comrade Hu Ge is being sued by The Promise's director Chen Kaige.

When I first saw this piece of news, I thought it was funny -- this was a fitting sequel to The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun: "A Funny Video Let To A Funny Lawsuit."  But when I read it more carefully, it seemed that director Chen Kaige is really angry and the consequences are serious.

This is what we usually see.  For the purpose of getting more eyeballs, a movie will create some news before they even start production.  For example, a love affair between so-and-so with so-and-so and so on.  The promotions for The Promise were very good, but they spent a lot of money for that.  When The Steamed Bun appeared, it may seem malicious, but it actually hyped up The Promise for a while.  Normally speaking, The Promise should fade away after it went into public screening.  But there are still many people who saw The Steamed Bun and then went to see The Promise.  So that was thanks to The Streamed Bun, and director Chen should have been grateful.  Unexpectedly, he was not amused by the humor and chose to meet in court instead.

But if this were director Chen's tactic to hype up The Promise, then I must say that "director Chen is awesome and really awesome."  But if director Chen is actually seriously trying to defend his rights, then I must smirk and then turned around to lecture Hu Ge: the next time you do a parody, you should check if the other party has any sense of humor; if not, you can't tell the joke.  You have entertained everybody, but you turned yourself into the defendant.  Where have I going to find this kind of entertainment in the future?

Director Chen filed a lawsuit because he may be concerned about how The Steamed Bun has deconstructed his carefully crafted The Promise.  But when do truly great works worry about being deconstructed?  The Sequel To The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms and the New Monkey Go West and other works are everywhere, but the classic is still a classic and The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms and Monkey Go West hold irreplaceable positions.  The key is whether The Promise can withstand deconstruction  If it is something that falls apart just by puffing some air, then The Steamed Bun and Hu Ge were just unlucky: while it was not totally wrong to make a parody, why find such a vulnerable subject?  You touch it lightly and it is dead, so it was your rotten luck.

Netease conducted a poll to ask netizens about their opinions of Chen Kaige and Hu Ge.  843 votes (=4%) supported Chen Kaige while 14,760 (=85%) supported Hu Ge.  It is clear where the people's sympathies lie.  How did it come out like this?  Frankly, Chen Kaige's 300 million yuan The Promise provided less delight and joy than the 20 minute Steamed Bun.

Hu Ge said that if he loses the case, he will be bankrupt.  Here, I want to tell Hu Ge: Brother, you hang in there and go all the way with the comedy.  If you lose, we will raise money for you!  We will donate money for art that the people like!"

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  The Husband-and-Wife Talk Show in the Steamed Bun Affair.  By Wang Xiaoyu.  February 16, 2006.

Prior to The Promise heading for Berlin, director Chen Kaige suddenly said that he intends to sue the author Hu Ge of The Bloody Case That Started With A Steamed Bun.  This incident is first of all a legal matter, and there are differences of opinion about that.  The spokesperson of the State Copyright Bureau responded to the reporters by pointing out: "In presenting or explaining a viewpoint, it is permitted by the Copyright Law to appropriately quote a small amount of the work of another person.  This is within the realm of reasonable use.  But if this goes beyond the theme of presenting or explaining a viewpoint and a large amount of work is being used, that is not permitted under the law."  So it should be clear that whether The Bloody Case That Started With A Steamed Bun violates the copyright depends on whether its use from The Promise is "reasonable usage."

But then this matter is clealry not just a legal issue, and the law cannot resolve all the many associated problems that are generated.  For the plaintiff, the "lawsuit" cannot reduce or terminate the dissemination of this video clip and the defendant cannot offer much in economic compensation.  From the current Internet opinions, this action will not help Chen Kaige rescue his reputation, but it will only damage it.

Chen Kaige's attitude is completely opposite to that of his wife Chen Hong, who is the producer of The Promise.  She said that the video clip had no commercial motive and therefore she would not follow up.  How is it possible that husband and wife have completely opposite viewpoints on the same matter?  In his interview, Chen Kaige said that "The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun not only hurt me, but it hurt all those people who worked hard on The Promise."  That was why "he was forced to stand up."  But from Chen Hong's attitude when she was interviewed, she did not seem very hurt.  These two people did not seemed to ahve communicated with each other, or else their attitudes may have changed?  I look at it as the "husband-and-wife dissent" is just a show because it was really husband-and-wife double talk.  The two Chens expressed different viewpoints about The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun less for legal reasons that to have different promotional tactics during different stages of publicity.

When The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun was first introduced, the promotion for The Promise was at its peak.  Under these circumstances, the "lawsuit" would have turned the attention from Chen Kaige to Hu Ge as well as increase awareness of the video clip and broaden its distribution.  When Chen Hong said "no follow-up," this was just the refusal to offer free "publicity" for Hu Ge so that this "unknown person" would become famous.  In truth, this was just a stall tactic.  According to Chen Kaige, they had begun to "collect the evidence before the Spring Festival."  Why did Chen Kaige wait until now to sue Hu Ge?  According to his own account, the "evidence collection has now been completed."  But we know that even the most inefficient team could not have taken one month to gather the evidence.  This moment was chosen for the second wave of promotions for the foreign expeditions of The Promise and the middle- and long-term prospects inside China.  By this time, Hu Ge is already a "public figure" while The Promise was dropping from view.  Therefore, the "lawsuit" will turn the media attention from Hu Ge back to Chen Kaige. 

Generally speaking, a successful commercial publicity campaign does not only want a brief explosion, but there has to be mid-/long-term waves.  During the first wave of publicity, the "lawsuit" would have two detonation centers and therefore it must be held back.  In the second wave of publicity, the "lawsuit" rapidly spreads out like waves and tehrefore it was declared openly.  As Chen Hong said, Hu Ge's video clip has no commercial motive.  But the deceptive thing was the Chen Kaige was able to manipulate it for commercial publicity.  The current heated debate about the law is just a cover, because the identity of the final victor is immaterial.  Nobody loses: the plaintiff gets the "eyeball effect" and the defendant gets the support of the majority of netizens.  Everybody gets what they need.

Related link: A Chinese Blogger's Tale  Dexter Roberts, Business Week; A spoof hits China's Web - and a star is born  Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor