BEIJING Nearly 40 minutes have been chopped from the Hollywood film Cloud Atlas for Chinese audiences, deleting gay and straight love scenes to satisfy local censors despite a movie-going public that increasingly chafes at censorship.
It premiered Tuesday in Beijing in a red-carpet ceremony with actor Hugo Weaving and Chinas own Zhou Xun, but wont start running in Chinese theaters until next Thursday. The filmmakers Chinese partners have slashed that version from the U.S. runtime of 172 minutes to a pared-down 134 to expunge the passionate episodes.
The 172-minute version can be downloaded online ... so I am sure some people will prefer that to going to the cinema, said movie fan Kong Kong, 27, who lives in Shanghai.
Chinese citizens have recently become more outspoken, especially on social media, with complaints about censorship of imported films as well as the home-grown movie industry and news media, much of it imposed on elements that might make China look bad. Awkward cuts by the censors to the most recent James Bond offering Skyfall, which opened here Monday, prompted calls for a review of the film censorship system.
Even these kinds of movies are getting censored, for what? wrote Wei Xinhong, deputy editor in chief at Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing Bureau, on his Twitter-like Sina Weibo. What kind of era do we live in today! Still want to control peoples minds?
He said he was left confused after watching Chinas version of the 007 movie, which deleted a bloody scene showing a French hitman killing a Chinese security guard. It also changed the subtitles of Bonds conversation with a young woman in the Chinese territory of Macau about her past references to her as a teenage prostitute morphed into a mention of her membership in the mafia.
The Cloud Atlas filmmakers say they are confident their movie will retain its integrity despite being 38 minutes lighter.
Executive producer Philip Lee said Thursday the filmmakers knew they would have to follow the censorship requirements to have the movie shown in China. He said he hadnt yet seen the censored version that will come out next week, but that he was confident that the Chinese distributor, Dreams of Dragon Pictures, had made the right changes.
We have very strong belief in our partner Dreams of the Dragon Pictures, Lee said. They have been extremely helpful and collaborative and I am sure they will protect the integrity of the film makers, our creativity and vision.
A woman surnamed Su in charge of propaganda for Dreams of the Dragon Pictures refused to comment Thursday. Phone calls to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television rang unanswered.
China allows only 34 foreign films to be shown in its movie theaters each year and 14 of those have to be in 3D or IMAX format. However, pirated DVDs of Hollywood blockbusters are widely available in China, sometimes the result of recording films as they are shown in American or European movie theaters.
Im kind of surprised that the directors or the films producers would accept such a hefty edit on this, Florian Fettweis of Beijing-based media consultancy CMM-I said of Cloud Atlas. Usually if Hollywood movies encounter heavy censorship, the makers change their mind about showing it in China, he said.
Fettweis said that happened with the 2008 Batman movie The Dark Knight.
Commonly, big Hollywood directors are the ones who dont accept edits to their films, said Fettweis.
Chinas authoritarian government strictly controls print media, television, radio and the Internet. China doesnt have a classification system, so all movies shown at its cinemas are open to adults and children of any age. This has led to calls for a tiered classification that would give clearer guidelines to filmmakers and allow some films to be less heavily censored.
There are two strands to the Chinese censorship prudishness and political sensitivities, said Steve Tsang, an expert on contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham in Britain.
The censoring of gay love scenes in Cloud Atlas falls into the first category while cuts to Skyfall are in the second, broadly defined as anything that portrays China or the Chinese in a negative light.
Shooting a Chinese officer in uniform, they dont want to encourage that, said Tsang.
The screen time of a pirate played by Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat in the 2007 Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End was slashed in half by censors for vilifying and defacing the Chinese, said the official Xinhua News Agency at the time.
The changes made to Skyfall were widely reported in state-run media. Xinhua quoted Shi Chuan, a professor from Shanghai Universitys film department, as saying: Movie regulators should respect the producers original ideas, rather than chopping scenes arbitrarily. He renewed calls for the establishment of laws and norms for movie censors to follow.
Cinema-goers who saw the censored version were confused by the cuts, which also deleted a characters line about having been tortured by Chinese security agents.
Now I know why I was so confused when I watched it, and not able to connect each scene, a moviegoer, Gao Yuan, who works for a cultural publishing company in Beijing, said on her Sina Weibo. Its not worth watching any good movies if they cut them like this. Maybe just dont import it.
AP researchers Fu Ting in Shanghai and Flora Ji in Beijing and contributed to this report.