C'mon Hollywood: Is Hollywood going to start being Made in China?
If you look around your surrounding area right now, chances are there are five or more things with a stamp or sticker on them that say Made in China. It’s not uncommon, as China is the largest economic power in the world and continues to grow. I’m not even going to attempt to get into socioeconomic global politics, but there are certain moves being made these days that cause an alarm to go off in my head, which basically come down to the influence of censorship. Why is that an issue? Well, it all comes down to the same ol’ thing: Money, and lots of it.
As a Communist society, China doesn’t have the same freedoms that democratic societies have. Films made in China are heavily scrutinized and must portray the country (i.e. the government) in a positive light, as well as a laundry list of themes, values, and portrayals that are scrutinized by a censorship board of 37 people run by China’s powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, or S.A.R.F.T. This group screens every film in the country, be it made in China or somewhere else. They ultimately determine what films can be played in theaters and make the call on what must be changed or cut in order to do so.
Recently, the film 21 AND OVER, a raucous comedy about college-age debauchery from the writers of THE HANGOVER fell plague to Chinese censorship as the production was partially funded by a Chinese government-owned corporation that took issue with the film’s “message.” The result? A major story modification that paints a very different portrait not only of the lead Chinese character, but also of the United States, essentially making a movie about youthful independence become a movie about embracing your roots and turning away from Western ways. You have to wonder if the investors realized they were putting money into a film written by the guys that made THE HANGOVER. What did they think they were gonna get?
Foreign funding isn’t, well, foreign, but the massive influence of censorship as a result of it is. Sure, investors can have an influence on films. Ultimately, all movie studios have influence and exercise it regularly. However, it’s rarely at such an extreme level. Our own censors, the MPAA, can certainly influence a rating, but depending on how big or small the film is (and level of studio involvement), a filmmaker can, in the end, tell them to f*ck off and leave it unrated (or take an undesirable rating). That’s an extreme case, as no filmmaker wants to take a bath on their film, but the fact remains that the integrity of the film can be retained in this environment (and those of other democratic nations) if it comes down to an issue of censorship. Here, ratings are voluntary. In China, they are not.
The influence of Chinese dollars has slowly made its way through the Hollywood system in the last few years with a myriad of alterations as a result, including: Producers of the RED DAWN remake changed the antagonist from China to North Korea at the last minute, TITANIC 3D removed Kate Winslet’s breasts, SKYFALL took out a Chinese security guard’s death and the plot point that Javier Bardem’s villainous character was tortured by the Chinese, CLOUD ATLAS lost 38 minutes of footage, LOOPER shot additional scenes in the country, creating an alternate version (ironically, releasing the film after banning all time travel themes), and many more.
Currently, the production of Marvel’s IRON MAN 3 is in a similar boat as Rian Johnson’s LOOPER. Namely, it is attempting a co-production with Chinese investors, but doing so without script pre-approval. However, Marvel has wooed the censors by outlining the story, the history of Marvel and Disney, and tempting the inclusion of Chinese characters, which has already happened with the addition of Chinese A-lister Wang Xueqi, as well as an appearance of Fan Bingbing (who is also set to star in the new X-MEN film). The producers have revealed that IRON MAN 3 will have an alternate cut for Chinese theaters, including “specially prepared bonus footage.”
Most recently, Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS 4 has jumped on the China bandwagon, announcing a co-production with investors from the Chinese government and will even be partially shot there. So, what does it all mean? Is Chinese influence (aka money) such a bad thing? With their economy at the top of the chain and new screens going up daily, inching just behind Japan as the second-largest international market, does it really matter if they are getting alternate cuts with additional scenes, cut scenes, altered dialogue, or modified stories?
Well, yeah, it kind of does.
The problem is that every time a production crawls into bed with an outside influence, especially one so deeply rooted in censorship, it affects the films we see in a big way. You may think that a film playing differently in another nation doesn’t affect you, but the longer and deeper that Hollywood swims in the pockets of censors, the more they’ll “fine tune” the films they make to suit that audience, thereby no longer making a movie based on an original story, but a movie based on a story that the censors will approve. In China, themes of “murder, violence, horrors, ghosts, demons and supernaturalism” are banned. Do we want to start making only “approved” movies?
The lure of a burgeoning market has Hollywood salivating and it’s not going to stop. One can only hope that there will be enough good sense to shy away from government-sponsored censorship disguised as foreign investors when it comes to sacrificing the integrity of a film. Otherwise, we’re no longer making artful entertainment, but artful propaganda. And while TRANSFORMERS 4 will likely never be considered high art, it certainly won’t win any favor by having Optimus Prime speak Chinese and turn into a Shanghai GM Excelle.
|Extra Tidbit:||At what point do you consider a film being censored vs. being "influenced"?|