Skip to main content

James Bond's license to kill curtailed in China

By Katie Hunt, for CNN
January 22, 2013 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese censors cut key scene, alter dialogue in latest Bond movie
  • "Skyfall" was partly set in Shanghai and Macau
  • More Hollywood movies featuring Chinese storylines and backdrops
  • China now has world's second largest box-office takings

Hong Kong (CNN) -- In the latest Bond movie "Skyfall," Daniel Craig's 007 pursues an assassin up a glass skyscraper in the dead of night and meets a glamorous casino host with a troubled past.

The action could plausibly have taken place in any of the world's major metropolises but the film makers chose Shanghai and Macau, two of China's most dynamic cities.

Read: 'Skyfall' passes billion dollar mark

It reflects the growing importance of China as a market for Hollywood movies and Chinese backdrops, themes and actors are likely to become only more commonplace.

But appealing to Chinese audiences is fraught with difficulty as the makers of "Skyfall," which has fallen foul of Chinese censors, have discovered.

Daniel Craig: I'm not fussy
Amazing story of the James Bond theme
'Skyfall' premieres in London
Censorship clash in China

Censors cut a key scene and altered subtitled dialogue in the movie, which opened in China on Monday. Its release was also reportedly delayed to help boost the box office takings of rival homegrown movies.

Read more: Opinion: Censorship row reveals tolerant side of China's new leadership

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the offending scene showed the shooting of a security guard in the lobby of a Shanghai skyscraper by the French assassin being chased by Bond.

Later in the movie, at a casino in Macau, 007 asks Severine (Berenice Marlohe) about her tattoo. The Chinese subtitles hint at mob connections, removing a reference to her becoming a prostitute at a young age as per the original.

Read more: Chinese newspaper in eye of censorship storm back on sale

And references to the backstory of Javier Bardem's rogue MI6 agent were culled to avoid giving attention his role in stalling Hong Kong's handover to China, the Yangzi Evening News reported.

Such censorship is not uncommon for Hollywood films released in China, says Rance Pow, founder of Artisan Gateway, a Shanghai-based film and cinema consultancy, and every film released in China is subject to the censorship bureau's approval.

Read more: Censorship protest a test for China

Scenes deemed offensive were also removed from "Men in Black 3" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

Movies featuring social unrest, religion, political matters, sex and violence are likely to face extra scrutiny, said Pow.

"Part of this is rooted in the fact that China still does not have a movie rating system and so the burden of determining what is appropriate for the general public to see falls on the (censor)," he said.

Read more: Chinese censors block news on blind activist's escape

Domestic film producers, like Li Peisen, the chairman of Orange Sky Entertainment, say pleasing censors is common sense and part of doing business in China.

"I think foreign movies have to use Chinese elements carefully. There has to be a mix of positive and negative portrayal," Li told CNN.

It's understandable (why censors want to remove certain scenes) if a movie contains only a few China scenes and the Chinese characters either get killed or appear in negative roles like prostitutes."

Read: How real is 'Skyfall's' portrayal of cyberterrorism?

Other challenges Hollywood faces as it vies for its share of the Chinese box office -- now the world's second largest -- include rampant piracy and efforts by authorities to protect homegrown films.

China relaxed its quota system for U.S. films last year but still only allows 34 movies a year -- up from 20 previously.

To circumvent the quota, many U.S. studios are launching tie-ups with their Chinese counterparts to get preferential access but these co-productions, as they are known, have mixed results.

There is also widespread industry speculation that China rigs release dates to favor domestic movies.

Pow says that "Skyfall" and "The Hobbit," scheduled to be released later this year, may have fallen prey to this: "December is traditionally a month where Chinese films enjoy a period where no imported...titles are released in China."

Illegal downloading too takes its toll on the film industry. Chinese audiences can easily access a copy of the original "Skyfall" should they wish to see the uncut version, but this does not necessarily hurt box office takings, said Pow.

"The publicity surrounding heavy censorship creates greater awareness so while illegal downloading will go up, ticket sales at cinemas will also go up," he said.

"It can spin both ways."

CNN's Steven Jiang and Zhang Dayu in Beijing contributed reporting to this story

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0707 GMT (1507 HKT)
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0109 GMT (0909 HKT)
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT