Chinese director Lou Ye’s film about a blind massage centre premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Monday after a battle to secure official approval for the movie.

Ye’s struggle to win the backing of Beijing’s conservative film bureau for Blind Massage (Tui Na) was one of many fights with the authorities to gain approval for his films. This time he said it was even more complicated because Blind Massage was based on a popular novel of the same name by author Bi Feiyu.

“It was much more difficult with this film than others because it is the adaption of a well-known novel,” he told a press conference in Berlin.

“I’m not so sure many people would want to have adapted the novel because there are many difficulties.”

The film is one of three Chinese movies to be screened as part of the main competition for top honours at this year’s Berlinale.

Set in the provincial Chinese city of Nanjing, Blind Massage also features themes of prostitution, corruption and accidents in the badly regulated coal mining industry.

Spotlighting similar issues in his movies has also landed Ye in trouble with the authorities in the past. They slapped him with a five-year film-making ban in 2006 after he submitted his film Summer Palace to the Cannes Film Festival without official permission. Apart from a frank portrayal of sexual relations, Summer Palace was set against the backdrop of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, which is another taboo subject for Chinese authorities.

Three years later Ye laid down another challenge to the authorities with Spring Fever, which he clandestinely filmed in Nanjing and submitted to Cannes.

His first film, Weekend Lover in 1995, was also banned along with Suzhou River in 2000, which gained him global recognition.

Much of the focus of Ye’s films is about the complexity of relationships. Spring Fever tells of a passionate affair between a married man and his openly gay lover.

In Blind Massage, Ye portrays the difficulties and tensions between those working in the massage centre and their encounters with sighted people. – Sapa-dpa