Skip to main content

James Bond's license to kill curtailed in China

By Katie Hunt, for CNN
updated 10:14 AM EST, Tue January 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese censors cut key scene, alter dialogue in latest Bond movie
  • "Skyfall" was partly set in Shanghai and Macau
  • More Hollywood movies featuring Chinese storylines and backdrops
  • China now has world's second largest box-office takings

Hong Kong (CNN) -- In the latest Bond movie "Skyfall," Daniel Craig's 007 pursues an assassin up a glass skyscraper in the dead of night and meets a glamorous casino host with a troubled past.

The action could plausibly have taken place in any of the world's major metropolises but the film makers chose Shanghai and Macau, two of China's most dynamic cities.

Read: 'Skyfall' passes billion dollar mark

It reflects the growing importance of China as a market for Hollywood movies and Chinese backdrops, themes and actors are likely to become only more commonplace.

But appealing to Chinese audiences is fraught with difficulty as the makers of "Skyfall," which has fallen foul of Chinese censors, have discovered.

Daniel Craig: I'm not fussy
Amazing story of the James Bond theme
'Skyfall' premieres in London
Censorship clash in China

Censors cut a key scene and altered subtitled dialogue in the movie, which opened in China on Monday. Its release was also reportedly delayed to help boost the box office takings of rival homegrown movies.

Read more: Opinion: Censorship row reveals tolerant side of China's new leadership

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the offending scene showed the shooting of a security guard in the lobby of a Shanghai skyscraper by the French assassin being chased by Bond.

Later in the movie, at a casino in Macau, 007 asks Severine (Berenice Marlohe) about her tattoo. The Chinese subtitles hint at mob connections, removing a reference to her becoming a prostitute at a young age as per the original.

Read more: Chinese newspaper in eye of censorship storm back on sale

And references to the backstory of Javier Bardem's rogue MI6 agent were culled to avoid giving attention his role in stalling Hong Kong's handover to China, the Yangzi Evening News reported.

Such censorship is not uncommon for Hollywood films released in China, says Rance Pow, founder of Artisan Gateway, a Shanghai-based film and cinema consultancy, and every film released in China is subject to the censorship bureau's approval.

Read more: Censorship protest a test for China

Scenes deemed offensive were also removed from "Men in Black 3" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

Movies featuring social unrest, religion, political matters, sex and violence are likely to face extra scrutiny, said Pow.

"Part of this is rooted in the fact that China still does not have a movie rating system and so the burden of determining what is appropriate for the general public to see falls on the (censor)," he said.

Read more: Chinese censors block news on blind activist's escape

Domestic film producers, like Li Peisen, the chairman of Orange Sky Entertainment, say pleasing censors is common sense and part of doing business in China.

"I think foreign movies have to use Chinese elements carefully. There has to be a mix of positive and negative portrayal," Li told CNN.

It's understandable (why censors want to remove certain scenes) if a movie contains only a few China scenes and the Chinese characters either get killed or appear in negative roles like prostitutes."

Read: How real is 'Skyfall's' portrayal of cyberterrorism?

Other challenges Hollywood faces as it vies for its share of the Chinese box office -- now the world's second largest -- include rampant piracy and efforts by authorities to protect homegrown films.

China relaxed its quota system for U.S. films last year but still only allows 34 movies a year -- up from 20 previously.

To circumvent the quota, many U.S. studios are launching tie-ups with their Chinese counterparts to get preferential access but these co-productions, as they are known, have mixed results.

There is also widespread industry speculation that China rigs release dates to favor domestic movies.

Pow says that "Skyfall" and "The Hobbit," scheduled to be released later this year, may have fallen prey to this: "December is traditionally a month where Chinese films enjoy a period where no imported...titles are released in China."

Illegal downloading too takes its toll on the film industry. Chinese audiences can easily access a copy of the original "Skyfall" should they wish to see the uncut version, but this does not necessarily hurt box office takings, said Pow.

"The publicity surrounding heavy censorship creates greater awareness so while illegal downloading will go up, ticket sales at cinemas will also go up," he said.

"It can spin both ways."

CNN's Steven Jiang and Zhang Dayu in Beijing contributed reporting to this story

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Beijing says only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive, prompting criticism that it stifles democracy.
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
updated 11:12 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
updated 1:13 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
updated 5:08 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
updated 12:52 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
updated 3:42 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
updated 12:10 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
updated 3:12 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
updated 10:30 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
updated 5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
updated 2:56 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT