Django Unchained is the first Tarantino film released in China: Hollywood enters the dragon market but can it appease the censors?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As moviemakers look to make money in the East, Geoffrey Macnab reveals the conditions that China is imposing

Everybody in the Western film world wants a bit of China. Hollywood studios are desperate to establish a foothold in the world's biggest-growing movie market. European countries have been clamouring to strike co-production treaties with the Chinese.

The new gold-rush mentality about Chinese cinema was reinforced last year when China (slightly) relaxed its quota laws. Now, 34 foreign films (as opposed to 20) can be distributed in the Chinese market every year.

Further encouragement to the West has come in the type of films being released. Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained goes out in Chinese cinemas next month. This will be the first Tarantino movie to be seen officially in China. Given the level of violence in Django, its acceptance by censorship body the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) came as a surprise to many. Reportedly, only a minute has been cut from the film's original running time (as opposed to the 40 minutes that were lopped off Cloud Atlas earlier this year, including both gay and straight love scenes.) Historically, SARFT has been almost as fussy in what it allows on screen as Hollywood's notoriously prim Motion Picture Production Code in the 1930s. Everything from sex and violence to showing ghosts or disparaging the image of the People's Army is frowned on. There are signs, though, of a new liberalism.

The latest Bond film, Skyfall, did very brisk business when it opened in January. There were the inevitable cuts – a French hitman killing a Chinese security guard in a Shanghai skyscraper, the villain Javier Bardem's reminiscences about being tortured by the Chinese security forces, some references to prostitution – but Chinese audiences took to the internet to complain. A public debate about censorship ensued with even the official state news agency Xinhua criticising the cuts. In the social-media age, when pirated copies of films are available anyway, the authorities must realise that they can't stop audiences from finding out about or watching the original movies. James Cameron's Titanic 3D, minus the Kate Winslet nude scene but otherwise largely intact, was likewise a box-office phenomenon in China last year.

In theory, then, these are boom times for Westerners taking their movies to China. In practice, a huge wariness remains on both sides. There are still profound cultural differences to be overcome.

The Chinese authorities are intensely suspicious about outsiders who aren't doing anything to benefit the local industry. Westerners, meanwhile, are uncomfortable about the rapidly shifting ground on which they still have to operate when they do business in China.

“It is quite difficult to get a definite sign-off and approval from SARFT,” notes a former US studio executive who has worked frequently in China. “There are too many experiences of approval having been given and then taken away.”

The Chinese use a subtle kind of protectionism (reminiscent of tactics the Americans themselves once employed.) For example, last year, the China Film Group, the all-powerful state body that controls the distribution of imported films, arranged for The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises to be released on the same day. This meant the two American blockbusters ate into their own audiences. At the same time, locally made films are given prime slots. But it has become painfully obvious that Chinese producers don't yet have the knack of turning out blockbusters. The hope that the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) would spark a new wave of global hits from China has long been dashed.

In order to get around the restrictions still routinely placed in their way, the US studios are trying to work directly with the Chinese. Fox recently announced plans to co-produce “multiple Chinese language films” with the Beijing-based Bona Film Group. Meanwhile, as The New York Times noted, when Kung Fu Panda 3 is released in China in 2016, the state censors “will find no nasty surprises” because Dreamworks has already cleared the “story line, production art and other creative elements” with the Chinese.

Ironically, Hollywood's problems haven't just come from Chinese officials but from the American government. There have been suggestions that US studios may have made “inappropriate payments” to Chinese government officials to ease their films into the Chinese market. Although no formal charges have been brought against anyone yet, it is speculated that the studios may have broken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

“I do not believe that the studios knowingly went and slapped lots of money into government officials' hands but if you're giving money to a local distributor, that doesn't take long ending up possibly in some official's hand somewhere,” the former studio executive speculates.

With the US Securities and Exchange Commission investigating Hollywood and the Chinese censors and bureaucrats to deal with, the Hollywood studios aren't finding it easy to break into the Chinese market. Piracy remains a continuing worry. The logistics of shooting or distributing international films in China are daunting. Even so, the prize is so great that Hollywood is showing an unusual humility in its dealings.

At a US-China film summit held in Los Angeles last October, the Americans went out of their way to court Han Sanping, Chairman of the China Film Group. Rather than being criticised for making it so difficult for US films to reach Chinese audiences, Sanping was awarded the Asia Society “China Visionary of the Year Award.”

“The time to act is now,” declares Rob Cain, a producer and industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987.

“By 2020, the window will have closed quite a bit. Chinese producers are going to be more knowledgeable and sophisticated about the business and better able to develop projects themselves.”

This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of The Independent's Radar magazine

 

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin