Hollywood's China syndrome: Plots and characters changed to suit huge new audience

Asian giant is now the second-biggest box-office market – so producers are altering movies to make them more appealing to film-goers there

It's a very far cry from the days of Charlie Chan movies. Hollywood is now in full, panting pursuit of the Chinese film market, the world's second largest, and it's prepared to alter scripts, recast baddies, and transplant entire productions to win the business.

Paramount Pictures signed the latest in a lengthening list of deals between the American and Chinese film industries last week. In order to produce the fourth instalment of its blockbuster Transformers franchise, the Hollywood studio is buddying up with two Beijing-based businesses, one of which, China Movie Channel, is owned and operated by the Chinese State Radio, Film and Television Administration. As part of the agreement, laid out in a press release, the Chinese firms will assist with "selection of filming sites within China, theatrical promotion and possible post-production activities in China, as well as casting of Chinese actors and actresses".

On the same day, news emerged that Paramount had altered the script of its forthcoming zombie epic, World War Z, so as not to alienate or enrage Chinese audiences and the Communist Party censors who control their viewing habits. In the movie, Brad Pitt plays a United Nations worker in search of a cure for a global zombie pandemic, which one character mentions may have originated in China. The offending reference was reportedly removed, and replaced with the name of another country. A tiny change, maybe, but symptomatic of a trend in Hollywood, which has increasingly

been forced to compromise its content to satisfy the world's fastest-growing movie market.

Rob Cain, a producer who has been doing business with China for more than 15 years, says: "There are always strings attached to money, no matter where it comes from. I don't think there's anybody who makes films in China or anywhere else that likes the system of censorship there. But it's a reality and you have to deal with it. If you want to make movies, you just shut up and try to get away with what you can. Film-making is a business, and the business is moving towards China."

Last month, an annual report from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) showed that China surpassed Japan in 2012 to become the world's second-biggest box-office market behind the US, with combined box-office revenues of $2.7bn (£1.8bn) – a 37 per cent rise on the previous year. With $10.8bn in takings, the North American market remained the world's largest by some distance, but research by Ernst & Young has found that, at its current growth rate, the Chinese box office could outpace the US by the end of the decade. Speaking at the release of his organisation's report, MPAA chairman and chief executive Christopher Dodd said: "China is building something like 10 screens a day. There is a voracious appetite for product."

Historically, the Chinese government has allowed no more than 20 non-Chinese films to be released in the nation's cinemas per year, but a trade deal agreed with the US in 2012 allowed for another 14 foreign releases annually, provided they were in 3D or Imax format. In December, the 3D Oscar nominee Life of Pi, by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, became the second Hollywood film to fare better in China than it had in the US, grossing $84.3m in Chinese ticket sales. The first to perform that feat was James Cameron's recent 3D re‑release of Titanic; his previous film, the grand sci-fi Avatar (2009), is the most successful American movie to date in China, where it made $294m.

Last year, the Chinese media mogul Bruno Wu announced plans to build "Chinawood", a $1.27bn movie studio in Tianjin, partially funded by the local government, and intended to generate US-Chinese co-productions. DreamWorks is planning to animate Kung Fu Panda 3 at a new studio in Shanghai, with the help of Chinese investors. Meanwhile, back across the Pacific, China's Dalian Wanda group recently purchased the AMC cinema chain, America's second largest, for $2.6bn. There is even speculation that a wealthy Chinese firm might soon shell out to buy its own Hollywood studio, as Japanese companies did in the 1980s and 1990s.

But as Hollywood expands into the Middle Kingdom, it has also learned the cost of crossing the country's strict censors. In 1997, Disney, Sony and MGM studios released Kundun, Seven Years in Tibet and Red Corner, a trio of films critical of China's human rights record; Beijing temporarily cut off business dealings with all three companies. They're unlikely to make the same mistake again. Cameron agreed to cut shots of Kate Winslet's breasts

from the Chinese version of Titanic 3D, telling The New York Times: "As an artist, I'm always against censorship … [But] this is an important market for me. And so I'm going to do what's necessary to continue having this be an important market for my films. And I'm going to play by the rules that are internal to this market."

He is far from alone. Bond producers excised the death of a Chinese security man from Skyfall before its release there, as well as several mentions of Javier Bardem's baddie having been tortured in a Chinese prison. Chinese villains were edited out of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Men in Black 3. For last year's remake of 1984's Red Dawn, in which a group of American teenagers formed a resistance against a Russian invasion, writers began by replacing the original villains with a dastardly Chinese army. But when a backlash began to brew in China, MGM spent $1m to alter digitally every offending flag, symbol and line of dialogue in the movie, transforming its invaders into North Koreans instead.

Film-makers have not merely removed unflattering references to China; they have also inserted flattering ones. A 2010 remake of The Karate Kid was transplanted to Beijing in its entirety, and Japanese karate replaced with Chinese kung fu. The imminent superhero sequel Iron Man 3 was partly shot in Beijing, and partly financed by Chinese firm DMG Entertainment; its producer Marvel (a Disney subsidiary) announced last week that it would release a specially tailored cut for Chinese audiences, featuring a cameo by the popular Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. Rian Johnson, writer-director of time-travel thriller Looper, moved much of his screenplay's action from Paris to Shanghai to secure Chinese funding.

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower