China's greatest film-maker outraged by 'steamed bun' parody on internet

Hu Ge, 31, a multimedia editor from Shanghai, said he made a parody of Chen's £24m fantasy epic "just for fun" because he thought the original was "boring and unoriginal".

When Chen, who also directed Farewell, My Concubine, heard about Hu's take on his latest masterwork, he flew into a rage, accusing him of being "unimaginably shameless" and threatening to sue him for defamation. In the parody, the title of which translates as something like The Steamed Bun Murder, Hu has reduced the sweeping historical epic, with its emphasis on honour, swordplay, physical prowess and mysticism, to a gratuitous murder over a tasty snack.

Reviews of The Promise have been at best lukewarm - one commentator on the official Xinhua news agency website said the pale plots had disappointed many "who have subsequently been thrilled at Hu's caustic mickey-take".

The Promise has taken in about £14m in box office receipts. The Steamed Bun Murder, however, has been an instant success watched by millions online.

Chen, believing his work to have important messages about "love, freedom, and destiny", said he hoped everyone who watches it can "just enjoy it and feel like they had a spiritual shower". Hu thought differently. He went to see The Promiseon Christmas Eve and felt that he had been robbed of the £5.40 ticket price. He decided to play with the footage for his own and his friends' amusement.

Hu said he was shocked when he heard that Chen was threatening to sue, adding that he doesn't have any money to pay legal costs. "I didn't think Chen would take it so seriously," he said. There has been a remarkable backlash in China's chatrooms - almost all of it against Chen. "As an internationally acclaimed director, Chen should not be that narrow-minded," said one blogger, while Chen's former wife Hong Huang was quoted as saying: "He is too petty-minded to tolerate a little bun."

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