Chinese hit film Article 20 is ‘a fairy tale’ about the right to self-defence, legal experts say

by Phoebe Zhang and Sylvie Zhuang at

A new Chinese film by multi-award winning director Zhang Yimou swept the Chinese box office over the Lunar New Year, earning 1.34 billion yuan (US$186 million) over eight days, according to the China Film Administration.

But unlike the comedy or romance films that usually dominate the holiday period, the legal drama Article 20 (Di Er Shi Tiao) explores a controversial issue – the right to self-defence.

The film, co-produced by China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), follows two prosecutors – Han Ming and Lu Lingling – who find themselves working relentlessly to clear villager Wang Yongqiang of charges in the killing of another villager who had bullied him for months and repeatedly raped his wife.

As the story unfolds, the two prosecutors race to collect evidence, redefining the case as a right to self-defence.

In a scene near the end of the movie, Han delivers a passionate speech in defence of the suspect.

Han tells the court that the defendant in the case, who had seriously wounded another man in a fight after being bullied by him for months, was only defending himself and should be set free. At the public hearing, Han argues that the law should be used to uphold social justice, not to wrongfully punish good people.

“The law should make it more difficult for bad people to commit crimes, not for good people to take action,” he said.

“The law cannot yield to illegality,” Han said, prompting the entire courtroom to erupt in applause. Wang later goes free.