Dabe Alan

Why China controls the content in your favorite science fiction and action films

Why China controls the content in your favorite science fiction and action films

Iron Man 3 is enjoying a record-breaking box office take in China, a country that stricly regulates foreign films that are played in theaters. The Chinese audience won't see the movie we enjoy in the United States however, as the “International” edition of the film includes a number of oddly edited scenes and actors that were added to the film in order to appeal to a Chinese audience. These edits haven't been well received, but they're helping to make Iron Man 3 one of the more profitable films in the recent run of Marvel action movies.

This isn't the first time the Chinese market has impacted American films, and it certainly won't be the last. China is quickly becoming a major factor in how our movies are made, as big-budget releases fight for every advantage in order to make their budget back. That means appeasing Chinese censors.

Move the production, love on China, don't think about the past

“The Chinese version [of Iron Man 3] includes scenes revolving around characters Dr. Wu (played by Wang Xueqi) and his unnamed assistant (played by Fan Bingbing), neither of whom apparently play a particularly necessary role in the movie,” an IGN report stated. “There was also the bizarre addition of two advertisements at the top of the film: one for a Yili milk drink that poses the question, “What does Iron Man rely on to revitalize his energy?”—Spoilers! It's Yili milk—and another for a Chinese tractor and crane manufacturer…”

The reviews of these scenes haven't been positive, by many accounts they're poorly edited and break up the rhythm of the film. It's also possible these edits helped the film open in China; the country's censors regulate what films play and which do not, and Chinese content, or content that shows China in a positive light, are often weighed in the film's favor.

Variety ran a fascinating report on the production of the science fiction film Looper, which also used Chinese content to help ensure a release. A section of the film that was meant to be shot in Paris was moved to Shanghai, for starters.

“Among changes Stern says were made to the script, the main one was casting a Chinese actress (Summer Qing, who plays Willis’ wife in the film), as well as showing off Shanghai to good effect,” Variety reported. “Chen says DMG suggested the changes to smooth the deal, and both were stipulations the filmmakers eagerly agreed to.” The story also stated that time travel is unpopular with Chinese censors who are afraid of China's past being shown in an unflattering light. Looper, on the other hand, shows off a beautiful, futuristic Shanghai. No worries there.

Vanity Fair has an interesting article about the production of World War Z in the latest issue, and the article details the film's increasing budget and production problems. This makes China even more important than usual.

“Indeed, China, which limits the number of foreign movies imported yearly, is so important that, Paramount said, the filmmakers deleted a reference to intercepted e-mails from China where, in Brooks' book, the zombie scourge originates,” Vanity Fair reported. The film has yet to be screened by Chinese censors, but the content in the film will be massaged to make sure they have no objections.

“China has become the second-biggest market, and we evaluate how things play there,” Rob Moore, the vice-chairman of Paramount Pictures, told Variety.

China now enjoys great power over the success or failure of large-budget movies, and that economic clout trumps any kind of artistic license directors may want in terms of showing China in a negative light. Not only that, but expect to see more international versions of films with Chinese content added in, or Chinese actors and locations being written into big-budget productions.

The movie business is an international business, and China is becoming crucial for genre films. The next film to chase Chinese audiences? Transformers 4, which features scenes shot in China, and four speaking roles for Chinese actors who win a reality show.