Hollywood Gives China’s Censors a Preview

As it tries to tap the burgeoning Chinese film market with local flavourings and joint ventures, Hollywood has increasingly had to navigate the unpredictable demands of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, or SARFT. At The New York Times, Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes chronicle the growth of Hollywood’s dealings with the censors, and the effects on films such as Iron Man 3, The Life of Pi, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and a newly 3-Ded Top Gun.

[…] Paramount Pictures just learned the hard way that some things won’t pass muster — like American fighter pilots in dogfights with MIGs. The studio months ago submitted a new 3-D version of “Top Gun” to Chinese censors. The ensuing silence was finally recognized as rejection.

(“Political disapproval?” wondered the Times’ Edward Wong. “Or just good taste?”)

Mr. Cohen’s “Mummy” film, which was shot throughout China in 2007, was a historical fantasy about an evil emperor who is magically resurrected by foreign adventurers in 1946. The script was preapproved by China’s censorship board with only token changes — the emperor’s name had to be fictionalized, for instance. The censors also cautioned that the ancient ruler should not resemble Mao Zedong.

In a 2011 Web post, Robert Cain, a producer and consultant who guides filmmakers through China’s system, described having worked in Shanghai on a romantic comedy that went off script; the director included a take in which an extra, holding a camcorder, pretended to be a theater patron taping a movie on a screen.

The next day, Mr. Cain and others involved with the film were summoned to the office of a Communist Party member who told them the film was being shut down for its “naïve” and “untruthful” portrayal of film piracy. Assuming they had been reported by a spy on their crew, the producers apologized and managed to keep the film on track.

As tricky as dealing with SARFT may be for foreigners, it is all the more so for Chinese filmmakers. Last year, director Lou Ye described the tortuous process of securing approval for Mystery, a film he ultimately disowned in protest.