Hurray for Chinawood

How China is Calling the Shots in Tinsel Town

The American film industry’s lust for foreign tickets sales is hardly new, but the emergence of the Chinese movie market is a big part of that revenue stream. That means Hollywood storytellers must appease that country’s rigorous censors for the right to play their movies before Chinese audiences.

One way to do that is to include Chinese actors in movie productions. Another is to modify the stories being told so as not to slight China or the country’s interests. That means giving censors direct input in the creative process.

Why treat China differently than other nations? It’s the economy, stupid. The Heritage Foundation reports that China’s economy will be 20 percent bigger than that of the United States in just five years, citing International Monetary Fund estimations.

Why treat China differently than other nations? It’s the economy, stupid.

At a time when movie blockbusters routinely cost north of $150 million to make and market, getting more return on investment is critical to a studio’s bottom line. That impacts how Hollywood goes about its business.

Censorship in action

For example, DreamWorks invited Chinese film censors to its Universal City, California, campus to watch the making of “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which is being co-produced by a Chinese film company. Said censors also gave the film’s story their approval.

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One U.S. studio went so far as to change the nationality of a film’s villain to avoid upsetting Chinese officials. The 2012 “Red Dawn” remake featured an invading army of North Koreans, not Chinese as was originally intended.

“Iron Man 3” took Hollywood’s Chinese obsession to new heights with script changes, additional scenes and a curious product placement choice. The 2013 smash “World War Z” changed the origin of the zombie outbreak from China to Moscow.

“World War Z” changed the origin of the zombie outbreak from China to Moscow.

Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning “Django Unchained” endured a series of cuts to mollify the nation’s censors, who disapproved of the movie’s ultra-violence.

The R-rated comedy “21 & Over” suffered similar slicing and dicing before it played in Chinese theaters. The China-approved version showed the film’s Chinese character returning home after burning out on western debauchery.

Celebrities routinely embracing China without comment. Beautiful stars like Rihanna and Sarah Jessica Parker recently honored Chinese fashion traditions via the Met Gala in New York City.

China isn’t the only nation less than eager to accept film-based critiques. Many suspected North Korean was behind the hacking of Sony, timed around the theatrical release of its political comedy “The Interview.” That film proved highly critical of North Korean’s government and leaders. The hack and subsequent threats temporarily forced Sony to shelve the Seth Rogen comedy.

Suffice to say stories overtly critical of Chinese culture or government won’t be playing in a movie house near you anytime soon.LZ-info-thumb_Chinawood (1430)

The irony, perhaps, is that Chinese companies are trying catch up to their American counterparts. The private equity firm China Media Capital is trying to bring comparable motion picture production to China, giving stateside audiences some new, and potentially powerful, competition.

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