Sometimes the “adjustments” made to films are nothing more than business as usual. U.S.-Chinese co-productions don’t count against the foreign-film quota, so it’s no surprise that part of the upcoming Transformers 4 will be shot on location in China, with local actors rounding out the cast. Another co-production, Iron Man 3, flatters the Chinese by showing a protagonist who travels to China in order to see a particular renowned surgeon. But some co-productions are more iffy. The Hollywood Reporter says director Michael Mann’s next effort will feature a joint U.S.-China task force tracking down a deadly hacker in the Balkans. That is a howler given all the headlines on Edward Snowden and how our National Security Agency and Chinese military hackers are at war in cyberspace.
Bizarre and implausible plot lines aren’t the only problem. There is a lot of film censorship; and even more troublesome is the increasing amount of self-censorship by filmmakers who wish to anticipate what the Chinese objections might be.
Under pressure from Chinese censors, the most recent James Bond film, Skyfall, removed references to the sex trade in the Chinese territory of Macau as well as references to the torture of a British agent by Chinese officials. When Men in Black 3 was released in China, censors there had the studio excise scenes in which Will Smith erases memories of bystanders in New York’s Chinatown; authorities apparently feared that filmgoers would see the scenes as a comment on Chinese censorship of the Internet. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End saw half the scenes featuring Chinese pirate captain Sao Feng removed by censors because he was said to “vilify and deface the Chinese.”