Hollywood is no longer just appealing to domestic audiences. International distribution has long been a means for studios to double or triple a film’s profits, but the bar for boffo box office has been raised within the last decade. What is inspiring the financial sea change? Why, The People’s Republic of China, of course. Though they still rule of their domain with an iron fist, the Chinese government has been opening its film market up to Hollywood as means of financial and cultural innovation. With Hollywood’s bridge to the country now firmly linked, here are 15 famous films that have found themselves altered in the name of Chinese box office.
Photo: Ryan Fu /WENN.com
Rian Johnson’s time travel noir Looper (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, above) was financed, in part, by Chinese backers. As per agreement, director Rian Johnson made an alternate cut for Chinese audiences that extended a sequence set in Shanghai. The film was subsequently a massive hit with Chinese audiences, a fact many suspect is due to the government’s ban on time-travel themed stories on film and television (we’re guessing it was lifted for Looper).
Hollywood is no longer just appealing to domestic audiences. International distribution has long been a means for studios to double or triple a film's profits, but the bar for boffo box office has been raised within the last decade. What is inspiring the financial sea change? Why, The People's Republic of China, of course. Though they still rule of their domain with an iron fist, the Chinese government has been opening its film market up to Hollywood as means of financial and cultural innovation. With Hollywood's bridge to the country now firmly linked, here are 15 famous films that have found themselves altered in the name of Chinese box office.
Photo: Ryan Fu /WENN.com
Rian Johnson’s time travel noir Looper (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, above) was financed, in part, by Chinese backers. As per agreement, director Rian Johnson made an alternate cut for Chinese audiences that extended a sequence set in Shanghai. The film was subsequently a massive hit with Chinese audiences, a fact many suspect is due to the government's ban on time-travel themed stories on film and television (we're guessing it was lifted for Looper).
The Red Dawn remake (starring Chris Hemsworth) was designed to take the original film’s Cold War premise—a what-if Russian invasion of American soil—and update it with a modern day equivalent. China, America’s modern communist competitor, was the studio's first choice for the remake's villains. However, as the bridge between Hollywood and China was being built, the decision was changed. While the film was in the middle of shooting, North Korea took China's place as America’s onscreen assailants. MGM reportedly spent over $1 million to digitally alter the film’s Chinese iconography. Interestingly enough, Red Dawn director John Milius remade the premise in video game form with the first-person-shooter Homefront, a game that was forced to make the same China-for-North Korea tradeout close to its release.
21 & Over
The raunchy comedy 21 & Over got a very different cut for Chinese audiences. The Scott Moore directed comedy (see the guy in the center) is a celebration of modern hedonism and the freedom of youth. However, the Chinese edit of the film admonished this attitude—according to co-writer Jon Lucas, the edit “is sort of a story about a boy who leaves China, gets corrupted by our wayward, Western partying ways and goes back to China a better person.” The re-tooled film’s anti-American attitude caught the ire of many Hollywood critics, who accused the filmmakers of making two entirely different, morally clashing movies.
The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid remake came out somewhat ironic as the film did not focus on karate or stick with the original’s Japanese-influenced philosophy. Instead, Sony reset the movie to China and cast one of the country’s biggest action stars (Jackie Chan, pictured with co-star Jayden Smith) in the lead. The Chinese sanctioned version of the movie also served to lessen the harshness of the film’s native villains, cutting out the bullying actions of the film’s Chinese characters. The resulting movie, while not making much sense on narrative level, also made The Karate Kid's American protagonist seem like a dishonorable bully.
Men In Black 3
Men In Black 3 had an entire sequence cut out for its Chinese release. The opening Chinatown shootout was completely excised due to the country’s stance on internet censorship. Now, if you’ve seen the film, you may be wondering how that shootout had anything to do with democratizing the internet. However, Chinese censors believed the mind-erasing technology used on the scene’s innocent bystanders implied otherwise. A full thirteen minutes of the film was cut to adhere to the request.
Casino Royale marked the first James Bond film ever to receive a Chinese release. The movie was a massive hit, but did suffer a few alterations. References to the Cold War were redubbed, while Chinese audiences unfamiliar with poker were treated to a sequence explaining the rules of the game. Similar changes would be made for the next entry on this list...
Skyfall also did huge business in Chinese territories and, like Casino Royale, did not get around censors without some tweaking. References to the Chinese mafia were altered in subtitles, while Javier Bardem’s discussion of being tortured in a Chinese prison was deleted entirely. In terms of violence, a brief sequence revealing the murder of a Chinese security guard was also deleted, presumably because it made the country's authority figures look bad.
Despite featuring an all-star ensemble like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugo Weaving (pictured in a still above), Cloud Atlas was a bomb. This is likely due to the film's lengthy 169 minute running time that scared most domestic audiences away. Chinese censors may have done their own moviegoers a service by clipping 40 minutes of the film’s running time (129 minutes seems breezy in comparison to the long-winded version). All kidding aside, the censors cut most of the film’s most complex themes, removing a gay relationship and a sexually explicit affair from the narrative entirely.
Titanic was a massive hit in China. To no one’s surprise, James Cameron prepped the film’s 3D re-release for the country. Yet this meant adhering to one caveat: the removal of star Kate Winslet’s nude scene. Apparently, Chinese censors believed the film’s 3D effects would cause viewers to try to reach out and touch the-- ahem-- screen. For this reason the iconic sequence was 'let go' entirely as China did not trust their audiences to do the same.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End wasn’t a mind-blowing sequel, but the film did sport the great Chinese actor Chow Yun-Fat in a pivotal role. Despite the actor’s star power in his native country, Chinese censors cut out the majority of his scenes. Apparently the government did not appreciate the idea of a villainous Chinese pirate. Citing it as a negative stereotype, Chow’s scenes in the film were cut to a scant ten minutes of the film’s lengthy running time.
Mission Impossible 3
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James Bond isn’t the only cinema spy whose films have been cut by Chinese censors. Ethan Hunt himself (played by Tom Cruise) experienced editing from Chinese censors who removed six minutes from Mission Impossible III. The scene in question had star Tom Cruise use a baseball to distract a group of Chinese soldiers and subsequently shoot them down. Feeling the scene insulting to their military, China understandably removed it.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt coupling rom-com, actually added characters to appeal to Chinese audiences. The film-- which centers on a romance spurred during the building of a Mideast dam-- boasted Chinese hydroelectric engineer characters who showed a great deal of experience and professionalism at their jobs. While this change may not seem critical, it is worth noting the novel upon which the film was based (by Paul Torday) featured no such characters.
Kung Fu Panda 3
The Kung Fu Panda franchise (headlined by Jack Black, above) has been a massive success in China to no one’s surprise. Based on this phenomenon, the third film in the series will be a U.S.-Chinese co-production. Since the announcement, Dreamworks Animation has gotten flack from critics accusing the studio of taking jobs away from American animators. Regardless of your opinion on the topic, one can expect the film to be designed to play to Chinese and American audiences alike.
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While Dreamworks Kung Fu Panda 3 news grabbed headlines, Paramount’s partnership with China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises to finance Transformers 4 is considered a milestone. The Michael Bay film (rumored to star Mark Wahlberg) will film an exclusive cut intended specifically for Chinese audiences. We’re guessing it’s going to be heavy on nationalism—Michael Bay will do for Chinese audiences what Pearl Harbor did for Americans. Actually, in hindsight, that might not be a good thing for either.
Iron Man 3
Transformers 4 may have a Chinese special edition cut in the works, but Paramount’s rival studio, Marvel, announced their intention to make one for Iron Man 3 even earlier. The superhero film has been co-financed by Marvel (a Disney subsidiary) and the Chinese company DMG. To increase the film’s marketability, they will sport several Chinese actors whose parts will likely be expanded for the international cut. Interestingly enough, many critics are citing the partnership as a contributing factor to the film’s main villain, The Mandarin, being altered from his original Chinese nationality (he’s played by British actor Ben Kingsley in the film).