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Thanks to a population over 1.35 billion, the Chinese market is a highly profitable one for movie studios, but its government makes it a tricky one to wrangle. The Chinese government not only has a limit on the number of imported films it allows to screen in the nation each year, it also has very strict rules on what those movies can show. Earlier this year, we reported that about a quarter of Wachowski Starship's Cloud Atlas was cut for its Chinese release. Last week, news came that Iron Man 3 will have an edit exclusive to China to add in Fan Bingbing, the nation's most popular actress. And today we discovered that World War Z is undergoing revisions so it too can play better to the Chinese government.
The Wrap reports that Paramount execs have decided to change a minor plot point so as not to draw the ire of Chinese censors. In one scene, characters discuss where the horrendous world-shattering outbreak that caused a zombie apocalypse originated from, and someone suggests China. This might seem innocuous, but Argo has faced criticism for similarly brief references/possible offenses. So, the execs told World War Z's filmmakers to pick a different country to blame for its fictional end-of-the-world scenario.
As we mentioned, other movies have been tweaked to snag the Chinese market. It started with cutting brief scenes from movies like Skyfall, chopping sex scenes from Cloud Atlas, excising the Chinatown sequences of Men in Black 3, and creating and alternative version of Iron Man 3 with a Chinese-specific star. While unsettling, these changes only impacted the Chinese release of these films. With World War Z, we're seeing a new shift. What's unusual here is that Paramount is pre-empting potential Chinese complaints by changing the picture of their own volition before its even been seen by the censors. This makes a dangerous new precedent for major blockbusters that demand a big global box office to become financially successful.
Last year China beat Japan out for the title of largest international box office revenue source with $2.7 billion. With China becoming such a key player in the global box office, its reps don't even need to sound off to get their way anymore. We know money talks in Hollywood. Still, the concept that American movies—which bow down to the shady powers of the MPAA but not direct American government censorship—are willingly becoming subject to the restrictive constraints of the Chinese market is a disturbing trend.
Still, Stanley Rosen, director of USC’s East Asian Studies Center believes World War Z may not be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party for distribution anyway, citing a well-established bias against movies that deal in magic, horror or superstition. So even after this dubious revision, the zombie thriller might not be one of the 34 American films the Chinese government will allow to screen within its borders this year.