Cuts to “Fight Club” Reversed, Letting Movie End With A Bang

Tencent’s streaming service has restored the original ending of “Fight Club“—undoing their own cuts after facing widespread international and domestic ridicule over their edit to the 1999 cult classic. Earlier this year, viewers watching “Fight Club” on Tencent’s service were treated to a denouement completely different from the original montage of explosions suggesting that an anarchic attack on consumerist society was underway. Instead, viewers saw a caption, rendered in white text on a black screen, informing them that order had been restored:

It was unclear whether the film’s new ending was a product of Tencent’s self-censorship or a government censorship directive. (A Hong Kong film professor told The New York Times that he believes Tencent was the likely culprit.) Even some Chinese film review websites, such as Douban, have a tendency to self-censor content related to films they deem politically problematic.

It is not unheard of for Chinese censors to improvise “pro-government codas” that radically alter films’ original meanings. To name but two examples: the mainland version of the 2003 Hong Kong film “Naked Ambition” concluded with local police collaborating with Beijing security forces to crack down on pornography and prostitution, while the mainland release of the 2005 Hollywood film “Lord of War” ended with a caption explaining that Nicolas Cage’s character, a Ukrainian arms dealer, “confessed [to] all the crimes officially charged against him in court, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in the end.”

Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel upon which “Fight Club” was based, found the incident ironic. He told TMZ that the censors’ new ending was actually closer to the book’s ending—and that overseas publishers often edited the ending of his book to more closely conform to that of the movie.

Many Chinese cinephiles were outraged by the decision to alter the film’s ending. Some wondered why a critique of American capitalism needed censoring at all, while others mocked censors’ lack of “cultural confidence.” Social media comments, compiled by CDT Chinese and translated here, show that the reaction to the cuts was resoundingly negative, with many Chinese internet users bemoaning their inability to freely access international cultural products:

@雾港水手_:”Secondary Cultural Export” Powerhouse [a play on the Chinese government’s push to expand its “soft power”]

@小爷在此CRAZY:”Don’t fear film.” – Lou Ye

@吾有一友11:This is why I yearn for freedom. They do these things “in the name of the people,” yet they imprison each and every one of us. [Source]

After the outpouring of criticism, Tencent quietly restored the original ending. At The Hollywood Reporter, Patrick Brzeski broke the news of the reversal:

But it would appear that the backlash has been deemed more troublesome than the fictional film’s ending, as Tencent has now restored 11 of the 12 minutes it originally cut from the 137-minute movie. The minute still missing is mostly comprised of brief nude sex scenes between Pitt’s and Bonham Carter’s characters.

A spokesperson at Tencent didn’t respond to a request for comment. [Source]

At CNN, Michelle Toh, Nectar Gan, and CNN’s Beijing bureau reported on who might have been responsible for the original censorship, and the latest reversal:

Tencent (TCEHY) declined to comment on Monday. But a person familiar with the matter told CNN Business that the latest version of the film was provided to the company by the distributor, which the Chinese tech giant then streamed.

An employee for the distributor, on the other hand, told CNN Business on Monday that it didn’t “have control” over the film’s content, and was not aware of the latest change. The company, a Guangzhou-based firm called Pacific Audio & Video, is affiliated with state-owned Guangdong Radio and Television. [Source]

Censorship is a two-way street. Hollywood studios engage in blatant self-censorship to gain access to the Chinese market, although not always successfully. At The Atlantic, Erich Schwartzel detailed the process by which Tom Cruise’s iconic bomber jacket lost its Taiwan flag patch in the soon-to-be released remake of “Top Gun”:

Top Gun: Maverick, as the sequel would be called, was so expensive that studio chiefs approved its production with accounting projections that assumed its global gross would include Chinese ticket sales. What’s more, some of that $150 million budget came courtesy of Skydance Media, a Los Angeles film and TV company partially financed by Tencent, the Chinese tech firm behind China’s most popular messaging app.

[…] This all explains what happened to Tom Cruise’s jacket. In the original film, Maverick’s bomber featured a patch that highlighted the U.S.S. Galveston’s tour of Japan, Taiwan, and other countries in the Pacific, with flags from those countries below his collar. Chinese investors on the new movie pointed out to Skydance executives that those 1986 patches now posed a problem: […h]aving a global movie star flaunt Taiwan’s flag on his back undermined Chinese sovereignty. And given China’s decades-long animosity toward Japan, the studio executives reasoned that they should play it safe and erase that patch too.

When Paramount unveiled the poster for Top Gun: Maverick in the summer of 2019, it showed Cruise from the back, his signature brown leather jacket in focus and the flags of Taiwan and Japan—U.S. allies in real life—removed. Chinese officials did not even have to weigh in. […] Maverick’s bomber would adhere to the One China policy. [Source]

Within China, nationalistic films are currently dominating the box office. A sequel to last year’s blockbuster hit “The Battle at Lake Changjin” (criticism of which could warrant arrest) is this year’s top performer. A second film depicting the Korean War (known as the “War to Resist America and Aid Korea” in China) has also earned tens of millions of dollars. That film, “Sniper,” was directed by Zhang Yimou—the Chinese filmmaker who directed both the 2008 and 2022 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies—and his daughter. A Global Times article by Chen Xi, headlined Korean War films ignite moviegoers’ patriotism in Chinese New Year,” tied China’s present day material success to the seven-decade-old war fought against the United States:

“1950 was also the Year of the Tiger… At that time, the Chinese People’s Volunteers crossed the Yalu River to resist US aggression and aid Korea. We won victory and brought decades of peaceful development. After 72 years, the seventh year of the Tiger in New China is coming. In such a special year, we should remember this great victory even more, and the younger generation should know their happy life today is hard to come by,” Bona Film Group CEO Yu Dong told the Global Times in an exclusive interview.

[…] “There are two places that impress me the most: One is the red scarf fluttering on the dead trees in the snow-capped mountains, and the other is that there is only one soldier who survived from the whole military team. It is the fearless sacrifice of the revolutionary martyrs that brought about today’s prosperous China,” [Shi Wenxue, a Beijing-based film critic] said.

[…] “It can be said that Snipers is a biography for every unsung hero from the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea. The film did not deliberately belittle the opponent, and confrontations between the two sides truly became a confrontation between fighters, rather than a general battlefield confrontation. By digging deeper into the details of the characters, we can restore the cruelty of the battlefield. We Chinese cannot forget this history,” one film critic commended on Douban. [Source]

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