Chinese censor can't stomach Hollywood cannibals

By Clifford Coonan
Wednesday 01 April 2009 15:48

Chinese film audiences will not be able to watch Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp's swashbuckling adventures in Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest because the censor has objected to scenes of cannibalism.

An official from China's Film Bureau, which decides which movies will pass for viewing, said the main reason it had not been passed was because of the movie's depictions of eating human flesh, which were described as "horrible" and unsuitable for juveniles.

Local media said censors were also unhappy with the way the souls of the dead were depicted. As the scenes cannot be easily cut - they are integral to the movie - the blockbuster looks unlikely to be seen in China.

It is the latest example of a Western movie falling foul of China's rigorous and at times baffling system of censorship. While films with off-message political themes are generally rejected out hand, sometimes the reasons for a movie being banned are harder to fathom.

Despite repeated calls from the film industry, China does not have a movie rating system. In some cases, film censors suggest producers cut certain scenes involving violence or sex scenes and then rubber-stamp the movie later on. However, no one knows for sure what the criteria are for approval.

The Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible III was initially banned because scenes showing laundry hanging on a Shanghai washing line and old people playing mahjong were said to paint a poor image of the city. Producers made a few key cuts and the move will be released this month.

Memoirs of a Geisha was pulled at the last minute amid fears that it could inflame anti-Japanese sentiment because it featured two leading Chinese actresses, Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li, playing Japanese courtesans.

China restricts the number of non-native movies passed for theatrical release to 20 a year but co-productions are exempt.

Last month, there was a special season of patriotic films to mark the 85th anniversary of the Communist Party. The hugely popular Da Vinci Code was withdrawn from cinemas to make sure it did not detract from the wholesome home-produced fare.

Movies featuring ghosts, horror movies, or any kind of sexual content, are generally a no-no.

So too are films that feature espionage, one of the reasons Chinese audiences have never seen James Bond in action in the cinema. Industry sources say that there might be a change of mind for Casino Royale, due later this year, but these are very much the exceptions.

The first episode of the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, chalked up £1.8m in box office takings in China in 2003.

Fans of the movie who are anxious to see the sequel are likely to vote with their feet and buy a pirate copy of the pirate movie which sell for around £1 at one of the local DVD shops.

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