Entertainment

Bond market disruption

Agent 007 sees delay in China movie release. A licence to kill his box office?

Shanghaied: Daniel Craig and Berenice Lim Marlohe star in Skyfall

“No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die” was the famous retort from Auric Goldfinger to secret agent James Bond’s quip, “Do you expect me to talk?” back in 1964.

But it would seem that China’s film regulator might want Britain’s 007 to suffer a similar fate today – albeit a death at the box office rather than at the hands of a megalomaniac villain.

SARFT, China’s regulator for broadcast media, has moved the opening date for Skyfall, the 23rd entry in the long-running Bond series, from November 2 to January next year. And that leaves the film’s producers more shaken than stirred: the fear is that a lot of those keen to see the latest Bond offering will do so on pirated DVDs long before the film reaches the big screen in January.

It’s happening already on weibo, where eager fans have started posting links to Skyfall on downloading sites.

Elsewhere in the world Skyfall has a largely synchronised opening (it began showing in Hong Kong yesterday). This being a patriotic Jubilee year, Bond opened in the UK a few days early (last Friday) and is already reporting the biggest opening weekend for the franchise ever, taking $32.2 million. That’s the best performer so far this year, as well as Britain’s third-biggest opening of all time.

So what happened in China? The reason that Bond is being banished to 2013 is that SARFT has allocated all its slots for foreign films in this year’s annual quota. That’s hardly showing any love for a film that has gone out of its way to appeal to Chinese audiences. Parts of Skyfall were shot in Shanghai and the producers cast a little-known actress – Bérénice Lim Marlohe, whose father is Cambodian Chinese – as the latest Bond Girl. Director Sam Mendes made no effort to disguise that she was chosen for the role because of her Chinese roots.

Marlohe too, has been talking up her love of China in interviews. “Shanghai is truly beautiful and surprising, most of all at night with all the lights. In the night there, it’s like you are in a dream or a science fiction movie,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

But no matter: the final slot in this year’s quota had already been awarded to Life of Pi, directed by Lee Ang, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame. It will compete against a string of Hollywood imports like Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2, The Bourne Legacy and South Korea’s Deranged.

Although it won’t provide much comfort for MGM and Sony, Skyfall is not the only casualty as the door slams shut on foreign imports. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson, will also have to wait until next year, even though it is released in the United States on December 14. Similarly, Resident Evil 5, which features China’s own Li Bingbing, won’t be released this year.

Although still to purchase the freehold on a volcanic lair, SARFT is proving quite an adversary for the Hollywood studios. After heavy lobbying, the quota for foreign film releases in China was increased. But in a counterstrike designed to protect the domestic film industry, SARFT now imposes blackout periods on foreign films at busy times. Imports were blocked for most of August (see WiC161) and restrictions will apply again in December.

But before Bond starts thinking about taking his Walther PPK to his next rendezvous with the regulators, perhaps he should look on the bright side.

Reportedly, Skyfall will be shown in China completely uncut by the censors.

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