I n what could easily double up as an elocution test, the merging of the press and broadcasting regulators (GAPP and SARFT) has sired a new super censor: the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (or GAPPRFT, to use its acronym).
The name change was greeted with a sprinkling of ridicule locally, enough for a swift announcement that GAPPRFT’s Chinese version is to be shortened from 14 characters to 10. Even so, the renaming still has a SMERSH feel about it, although the Stalinist acronym was much more functional (conjoining two Russian words to mean “Death to Spies”, making for an admirably direct mission statement too).
SMERSH was a genuine entity and not just a figment of Ian Fleming’s imagination. But very little was known about its work until the fall of the Soviet Union. This sense of mystery has a tenuous parallel with GAPPRFT too, on news that Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering Django Unchained just disappeared dramatically from Chinese screens.
A bloody revenge story set in America before the Civil War, Django was pulled from Chinese cinemas at the eleventh hour. In fact, it was an even more last-minute decision than that in some cities, says China News Service, with some cinemas hearing the directive just after shows had started, forcing them to call an abrupt halt to performances.
GAPPRFT then explained that the release was cancelled for “technical reasons” but failed to provide any further insights, leaving the industry to speculate about what really happened.
Tarantino’s films are famous for their violence and Django was the first of his productions to be cleared for distribution in China. But any sense of celebration was short-lived. “We regret that Django Unchained has been removed from theatres and are working with the Chinese authorities to determine whether the film can be rescheduled,” Steve Elzer, a spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment said in a statement. He then declined to discuss the possible reasons for the cancellation.
Certainly, the last-minute nature of the decision was surprising. Potential problems are usually identified and addressed by the Chinese censors long before the film’s opening. Some are speculating that the film – also a tale of a peasant uprising – touched on a sensitive nerve with the authorities. Judging from reports, the film had already gone through a process of self-editing before its anticipated release. In an earlier interview with Southern Metropolis Daily, Zhang Miao, a director at Sony Pictures in China, said Tarantino had agreed to “slight adjustments” which included “toning down the bloody scenes to darker colour and lowering the height of the splatter blood”. But others say it might have been scenes of nudity which caused concerns, something that GAPPRFT may have overlooked first time around. Certainly, both Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington reveal a lot more skin than censors would normally approve.
Industry bosses weren’t impressed by the sudden embargo of the film. “The unexpected cancellation will do far more damage to China’s image than the sight of Jamie Foxx’s bare bottom could do to a Chinese audience,” Shi Chuan, vice president of the Shanghai Film Association, told the Global Times, expressing further annoyance that the “sudden pulling” of the film was “disrespectful to both the market and the audience”.
But Gao Jun, former president of Beijing’s New Film Association, a leading film distribution company, played down the suspension. “This is a very minor incident,” Gao claimed. “It’s just that Hollywood films aren’t that popular in China right now. People prefer to watch Chinese-made films.”
Moviegoers sounded unconvinced. “The unchained Django is chained in China by GAPPRFT,” one weibo user wrote, while another questioned how Hong Kong-made narco-thriller Drug War, which features scenes of a policeman snorting cocaine, as well as a man being given the death penalty by lethal injection, was given the green light for showing.
“This kind of non-uniform, lying-with-eyes-wide-open, approve-and-rescind censorship is undoubtedly making [the system] a big pile of dog dung,” he wrote. Still, those hoping to see Django shouldn’t have to wait too long. Chongqing Morning Post reported that the film is likely to reappear later this month after further editing.
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