James Bond has vanquished plenty of villains in his time. But even the British superspy proved helpless when he faced off against his toughest enemy yet – China’s film censors.
Skyfall, the latest Bond film, opened in China in mid-January. But audiences were soon complaining that scenes seemed to be missing from the version appearing in the US, the UK and elsewhere.
What was omitted? One scene showed a Chinese security guard being shot by a French hitman. In another section filmed in Macau, Bond asks a hostess – played by Bérénice Lim Marlohe – whether her tattoo is the result of being forced into prostitution at an early age. While the scene remains, the Chinese subtitles have been changed to suggest she is being asked about her mob connections instead.
Another key scene is cut entirely – it sees Javier Bardem’s character recall horrific torture at the hands of the Chinese authorities.
In issue 170, we predicted Bond would meet his doom in China. But at that stage we weren’t talking about censorship. Instead we were referring to Skyfall’s chances of box office gold. Our suggestion was that the delay in its China release – coming three months after its global premiere – meant that most fans would watch it on illegal DVDs, rather than go to the cinema.
But that problem has been compounded by fan annoyance that the cinema version has less integrity than the DVD.
“It’s annoying! Every time it’s the same!” one netizen wrote on weibo. “We’ve been waiting for this for so long and then they cut it and re-cut it!”
“I’d rather watch the pirated DVD,” was the verdict of another netizen, referring to the uncensored version.
Some netizens even warned of ulterior motives, saying that censorship was being used as a means to make foreign imports less attractive to audiences.
“It’s an obvious move they’ve made to support domestic films,” was one typical remark.
Industry insiders complain that the censors have little respect for the filmmakers’ craft . “Regulators should respect the producers’ original ideas, rather than chopping scenes arbitrarily,” Shi Chuan, deputy director of the Shanghai Film Association, told Xinhua. But it’s hardly new for films to be released in China with scenes considered politically or culturally controversial edited out. In 2007, Lee Ang’s espionage drama Lust, Caution lost seven minutes of footage for its China release (so many cuts were made that locals quipped that the film would have been better titled Caution, No Lust).
Tom Hanks’ Cloud Atlas, which debuted on January 31 in China, will be a huge 40 minutes shorter than the version shown in the US, where it has a running time of almost three hours. Dreams of the Dragon Pictures, the movie’s China distributor, told news agency China.org.cn that the cuts were due to censorship rules and the interests of the Chinese market.
“I just won’t go to the theatre,” one netizen moaned.
The Global Times says the edits aren’t always out of synch with the public mood. For example, it suggests that many moviegoers complained that they felt uncomfortable watching scenes in Big Fish (2003) because they “defamed Chinese soldiers during the Korean War”. The newspaper further claims that some cuts are forced on the regulator because of racism.
“Chinese film censors might need to relax a bit more. But if Chinese people are portrayed more accurately in future, they will surely be less busy,” the newspaper ventured hopefully.
Interestingly, Skyfall is the first Bond film to experience the censor’s attention. Industry observers say new trends in Hollywood designed to incorporate more of a flavour for Chinese audiences are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Hollywood producers want to include Chinese elements to lure local audiences. But that also means that authorities are more likely to pay closer attention. The lack of Chinese content in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace explains why Daniel Craig’s first two outings as Bond went untouched, says Tencent Entertainment.
So how big an impact is the edit having on ticket sales? Skyfall has earned more than Rmb112 million in the last two weeks, which is respectable rather than sensational. It should still comfortably overtake Quantum of Solace (which made Rmb143 million in 2008) to become the highest-grossing Bond film in China. Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s debut, earned Rmb92 million.
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