Top 10 Chinese censorships of Hollywood films
Lincoln Daw writes.
These days, if you’re going to create a blockbuster movie, one that will smash box office records, get a global audience and, most importantly, take a bucketload of dosh from the box office, the movie will have two versions.
The first version, released domestically, is the movie as originally conceived. Straight from the comic, with the original superhero/s, anti-heroes and urban destruction of London, New York, and/or Beijing. The second version, released in a foreign land will be edited, chopped, and tamed by the oblique functioning of that country’s paranoid film bureau. It will be similar but not identical. You can have your explosions, as long as Beijing is left out of it. Your anti-hero, baddies and innocent victims, won’t be from, or look like people from this country. There will be added scenes (absent from version #1) featuring moral beacons and do-gooder characters from this same nation.
Then there’s distribution. The first version of your film (because it’s a blockbuster and cost you lots of money to make) will be released at favourable times, with maximum publicity. The second version, distributed in this foreign land only, will be heavily inconvenienced and released in competition with similar films (imagine if The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman were released on the same day.*) And even when it breaks all box office records, is pulled after only three weeks to bolster attendance for a domestic film that flops, compelling the powers-that-be to bring back the 2D version of the highest grossing film of all time.^
Who would work in these conditions? Why even allow those soulless bureaucrats to sully the film at all?
The answer is money – and the dosh is in China.
Last year China overtook Japan as the biggest market for box office revenue outside of North America; it could be the biggest in the world by 2020.
Thus, China has leverage over foreign studios that want distribution rights in Chinese cinemas, and in this latest soft power offensive they’re exploiting the huge revenue takings of the their box office to apply censorship on foreign films. In order to be “harmonious” enough to get distribution in China, foreign films have to satisfy the requirements of a particularly dour and humourless arm of the Chinese bureaucracy, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television - SARFT. Think of SARFT, as an Olympics gymnastics judge that scores a 5 when every other judge has scored at least a 9.
In China, foreign films are subjected to censorship on two levels. The first is prudishness. Films can be censored if they’re composed of subject matter considered taboo, such as same-sex intimacy. The other form is political. After breaking box office records in China when it was released in early 2010, Avatar was pulled from cinemas only three weeks into its run. This distortion was in part motivated by the release of the local film Confucius, which flopped. But at the time of Avatar’s culling, social media was awash with commentary drawing parallels between the driving of indigenous populations from their lands and China’s unscrupulous practice of evicting peasants to make way for property developers.
This “soft power” offensive is being waged exclusively on China’s terms.
These days, any studio hoping to reach a global audience would be extremely naïve if they didn’t consider the sensibilities of the Chinese Film Bureau.
China has Hollywood by the balls; but let me stress it’s not squeezing them, it’s just prodding them in a discomfiting fashion.
Ten Western films that have been SARFTed on next page.