China’s Censors Ride Into the Old West and Castrate ‘Django’


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Django Unchained China poster A Chinese filmgoer appears to have a gun to his head for merely thinking about  going to see Django Unchained.

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 11, 2013

For a brief moment there it looked like China’s film authorities had taken an important and welcome step forward in loosening their censorship policies by allowing the theatrical release of Django Unchained. When news came out last month that the blood-spattered Tarantino film had been approved for an April 11th theatrical debut, many Chinese moviegoers and observers like me were encouraged that the censors’ strict barriers to violence and sexually suggestive material might be coming down at least a little.

No one expected Django Unchained would be shown in China completely intact; it was a marvel that it would be released at all.

But in a rather bizarre and disappointing move on Thursday, SARFT canceled the film’s release on its very first day. In some theaters the film had actually started playing when the projectors were turned off less than sixty seconds later. What legions of Django’s film adversaries failed to do, China’s censors managed to pull off in only a minute: they killed him.

SARFT explained only that the release was canceled for “technical reasons.” They are unlikely to provide any further insight, leaving China’s moviegoers to speculate about what really happened.

Much of the talk in China’s online film forums has centered on the film’s violence and nudity. The Chinese government censors movies before they can be released, and scenes that contain nudity, politically sensitive issues, or graphic violence, must be edited out before a film can receive a go-ahead from the authorities.

The Chinese publication IBTimes noted in this article that even after the censors’ cuts, a couple of scenes remained in the distribution prints that must have been inadvertently overlooked. One of those scenes is a long shot in which Jamie Foxx’s penis can be briefly but clearly seen. In the other Kerry Washington’s nipple can be glimpsed. As an online observer with the handle “Bob Violence” noted “With all the fuss over the violence, maybe someone forgot about the nudity.”

One internet wag in Shanghai with the handle “Alexbenetta” quipped “The government are agitated about the failure of castration of Django in the movie so they decided to do it themselves.”

Another observer, my Beijing-based friend “Firedeep,” speculated that “the sudden last-minute blocking of Django Unchained has a lot to do with the unwillingness of SARFT to see a [ratings] system getting further actively discussed, which is always a sensitive and inconvenient subject for them. Drug War, a drug enforcement themed film which was released last Tuesday has already stirred up some notable talk amongst the public regarding SARFT censorship and demands for the launch of a ratings system. With the coming of the Beijing International Film Festival next week, topics about films will predictably go even hotter. So it is reasonably argued that SARFT blocked Django Unchained to avoid any further heating up of these movie-ratings discussions.”

To which another observer “Polylove” replied “Whatever their intention was, now it backfired. Talk about Django Unchained‘s censorship raised more attention from people.”

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a newspaper run by the People’s Daily, wrote on his microblog: “The harm created by the act (of suddenly suspending the screening of the film) will be much greater than what may be brought by some ‘dangerous scenes’ to the nation’s politics.” Hu said some authorities have frequently made questionable decisions at the expense of the government’s credibility.

As Firedeep noted, Django did manage to set two records in China:

1) Lowest grossing imported revenue sharing film: box office RMB 25,683 yuan (US $4,144)  with 716 admissions via 87 shows [midnight debut).

2) Shortest screening time (closed in less than 11 hours after midnight opening).

There’s been no word as to whether the “technical reasons” would be addressed or whether Django’s release would be reinstated. The unfortunate and rather ironic reality is that disappointed would-be theater ticket buyers in China will instead wind up watching the uncensored version of Django via internet piracy sites or pirated DVDs.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

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‘Finding Mr. Right’ Continues Leggy Run to Cap Off PRC’s Record-Breaking Q1


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.com

Chef-Actor-Scoundrel poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 3, 2013

The first quarter of 2013, which ended last Sunday, saw numerous box office records fall in China, including:

  • Biggest single-day gross for an individual film: 140 million RMB, Journey to the West
  • Biggest single-day cumulative nationwide gross: 190 million RMB, February 14, 2013
  • Highest single-day cumulative nationwide admissions: February 14, 2013
  • Biggest final gross for an individual film: $201 million, Lost in Thailand
  • Biggest single-quarter cumulative nationwide gross: $820 million

After a strong start to the year, China’s pace of growth has actually accelerated, with local films putting up exceptional numbers. Take a look at the day-by-day performance of current box office champ Finding Mr. Right (aka When Beijing Met Seattle):Finding Mr. Right Daily gross

1 RMB = U.S. $0.161

The low-budget romantic comedy, which was inspired by the Hollywood hit Sleepless in Seattle, has been number one at Chinese multiplexes every day of its run so far, and will easily beat the previous Chinese rom-com record holder, Love is Not Blind, which earned $55 million in 2011. As of Wednesday, Mr. Right stood at $47 million, and now looks likely to hit $70 million before it’s done.

Second place for the week went to the WWII action-comedy, The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel, which debuted to a solid $12.2 million in its first three days, handily beating Oz, the Great and Powerful, which conjured up $9 million in its opening weekend, and Jack the Giant Slayer, which managed just $6.7 million in its first seven days. Chef-Actor-Scoundrel continued to play well into the week, and should wind up its run with a $40 million cume. Oz is fading fast and probably won’t do much more than $25 million, while Jack the Giant Slayer will top out at around $10 million.Box office week ending 3-31-13

It’s an impressive feat that the roughly $5 million budgeted Finding Mr. Right will, all by itself, outgross the combined China grosses of OzA Good Day to Die Hard, and Jack the Giant Slayer, which had combined production budgets of well over $500 million.

Overall, 2013 box office revenue is running more than 50 percent ahead of last year’s total, despite the lackluster performance of U.S. films, which are dragging the comps down. Hollywood will have several chances to redeem itself in the next few weeks, with Django Unchained opening on April 11th, G.I. Joe: Retaliation on the 15th, The Croods on the 20th and especially Iron Man 3, still undated but likely to open in China somewhere around April 26th, well before its before its U.S. debut.

It won’t be easy going for any of these American films though, as competition from Chinese movies will be fierce. The toughest challenge will come for Iron Man 3, which opens against the April 26th debut of So Young, a romance directed by megastar Vicky Zhao. Based on a popular young adult Chinese novel that is often compared to “Twilight,” So Young is about a young woman’s emotional struggle with two men she meets again years after their on-campus love triangle. Although So Young will be Zhao’s directorial debut, she was mentored by esteemed Chinese directors Tian Zhuangzhuang and Stanley Kwan, and early buzz about the film is highly positive (See the trailer here).

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.