How Hollywood films were censored for the Chinese market

Movies like Skyfall and Iron Man 3 were ‘amended’ for the world’s second biggest film territory.

China has never been more important to Hollywood. 

It's predicted that by 2020, the box office in China will be bigger than that of the US. It’s already the second biggest, moving ahead of Japan with takings worth £1.8 billion in 2012. It is also building 10 new screens every day to keep up with the appetite for film - US film in particular - amongst Chinese citizens. The significant increase has come after the Chinese authorities allowed a further 14 IMAX and 3D films per year from foreign territories.

[Related story: Will China own us all?]
[Related story: Censored version of Skyfall opens in China]

There's a huge amount of money to be made there, which perhaps explains why just this week, two huge Hollywood films were being "adjusted" for the market.

It was announced that 'Transformers 4' will be a US/Chinese co-production, with China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises partnering with studio Paramount. A chunk of the film will also be shot there, while Chinese actors and actresses will also flesh out the cast.

New Brad Pitt film 'World War Z' meanwhile has had a hasty re-edit to please the Chinese authorities. A reference to China being the source of the film's zombie apocalypse pandemic has been removed, with a source telling US site The Wrap: “It's not a huge plot point. But it's safe to say [they're] going to want a release there.”

Such changes in narrative appear to be becoming commonplace in Hollywood, which is increasingly aware of the potential size of the Chinese film market, and that plots or even remarks deemed offensive could end up costing them money.

Previously it had been a case of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) altering – or censoring – US films for the Chinese market, but now Hollywood appears to be taking on some of that work for them.

Robert Cain, who specialises in Chinese productions for Pacific Bridge Pictures, told the Daily Telegraph: “Unless there is a flattering image of Chinese people, you are going to run into a challenge from the SARFT.

“The list of taboos is so long it is very often too difficult to make anything entertaining.”

Whether it’s at the hands of rigorous state authorities, or worried studio execs in Tinseltown, here’s how Hollywood flicks were censored, or self-censored for Chinese cinema-goers.

Producers of the 23rd Bond film were compelled to remove the killing of a Chinese guard during scenes filmed in Shanghai and fudged references to torture and prostitution in the film's translation during scenes in the Macau casino between Daniel Craig's Bond and Bérénice Marlohe's Séverine, the mistress of Raoul Silva.

Red Dawn
MGM spent $1 million re-editing and changing the plot of the beleaguered remake of teen action
flick 'Red Dawn', starring Chris Hemsworth. It removed any trace of Chinese symbols from military
vehicles and uniforms, and made the would-be invaders of the US North Korean instead.

Cloud Atlas
A spokesperson for Dreams of the Dragon Pictures, which distributed the Wachowski's fantasy epic
in China, said that cuts were made to scenes of sex and violence in the film to appease the Chinese
censorship rules imposed by the SARFT. Other sources have said that the film was cut not for reasons of censorship, but to make it 'more appealing to exhibitors', according to Deadline, which is basically the same thing, surely? The film was ultimately 40 minutes shorter.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
So offended were the Chinese authorities by Chow Yun-Fat's character Captain Sao Feng that they removed half of the scenes he appeared in. The pirate lord was deemed to 'vilify and deface the Chinese', and so a scene of him reciting a poem in Cantonese, and a number of others disappeared from the Chinese release.

The Karate Kid
The remake of the 80s classic relocated the action to China, where Jaden Smith was targeted by bullies at his new school. The Chinese version shortened or cut entirely the fighting scenes in which his character was picked on, using only those where the Chinese characters were provoked into fighting, altering the entire narrative of the film from one of the underdog overcoming adversity to one of self-discovery. The Chinese kung-fu teacher is also edited to appear simply as a strong martial arts teacher rather than a stereotypical bully.

Batman Vs. Spider-Man

Chinese influence over Hollywood movies also extends to matters of scheduling. Both 'The Amazing Spider-Man' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' were released on IMAX on the same day last summer. Some accused the move of forcing the two films to 'cannibalise' their box office takings, and leave more room for home grown films. Spider-Man came out on top in this battle of the superheroes, hauling in $5.4 million to Batman's $4.5 million on their shared debut weekend.

Titanic 3D
The SARFT decided that the scene in which Kate Winslet appears nude but for a diamond in James Cameron's epic was deemed too much for the Chinese people, and was edited so that Winslet is only shown from the neck up. The administration said that the scene was harmful to 'building a harmonious ethical social environment’.

Men In Black III
One scene in which Will Smith erases the memories of a group of Chinese bystanders was ditched because it 'could have been a hint on the use of internet censorship to maintain social stability'. Meanwhile, a fight scene in which aliens were disguised as employees and diners in a Chinese restaurant was also removed for its perceived defamation.

Iron Man 3
In a savvy move, Marvel Studios has embraced the situation, turning in a tailored version of 'Iron Man 3' to the Chinese market with 'significant Chinese elements'. It features extended footage of notable areas, from scenes shot in Beijing, and also the inclusion of China's leading actress Fan Bingbing to the film - she was also recently added to 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'.