Away with bombs and terror: this is how China censors the ending of “Fight Club”

from Matteo Persivale

The intervention in the streaming version. The other cases of intervention by the Beijing censors

QWhat is the first world market for cinema? The China. How many foreign films are released in China each year? Only 34. Which film in the world, in 2021, has grossed the most? The Battle of Lake Changjin, a patriotic Chinese production on the Korean War that tells of a victory of Beijing’s troops against American ones, cost 180 million euros and has so far grossed almost 800 million euros, all exclusively at the Chinese box office.

The story that follows takes on clear connotations only by always keeping these three elements in mind. Who has seen Fight Club, the 1999 film with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt inspired by the novel by Chuck Palahniuk (Mondadori)the story of an anarchoid sect that organizes clandestine fighting encounters, cannot but remember the ending: Norton, holding Helena Bonham-Carter by the hand, watches from a skyscraper the other skyscrapers of the city collapse one by one, undermined by explosive charges placed by his followers while Where is my mind? of the Pixies plays at full volume.

Viewers of Fight Club on the Chinese streaming site Tencent Video, they didn’t see that ending. Just before the skyscrapers collapsed, here is a black screen, with an overlay text explaining that the authorities successfully stopped the terrorist plan, arrested everyone, and successfully prevented the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler (the character played by Brad Pitt, ed) was sent to an asylum, where he received psychological treatment. was discharged from the hospital in 2012.

According to the online magazine Vice the editing intervention would have been done by Disney, which owns the rights to the film. Recently, Freddie Mercury’s biography Bohemian Rhapsody (released in 2019) had undergone cutting of scenes showing drug use and homosexual intercourse, but superhero movies are not immune either: Logan (from 2017) had undergone scene cuts. considered too violent. Sometimes it is foreign producers (or directors) who choose not to send their films to the Chinese market, but these are rare cases: Quentin Tarantino had been pointed out that in his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that unflattering portrait of Bruce Lee – described by Tarantino as a braggart who ends up beaten up by Brad Pitt – was not good for Chinese audiences and he preferred not to touch the integrity of his film. The strict Chinese system, with an annual share of only 34 foreign films to which the huge theatrical market opens up, gives the government enormous power on the one hand, to determine which Hollywood films can enter the Chinese market. On the other hand, the obvious incentive for foreign producers to render their films harmless to censorship: accepting the cuts also means being able to have a say in the period in which the film will hit theaters, how it will be promoted, and much more.

a situation that occurs only in China? No, of course. In China there are some specific off-limits issues of a political nature – the status of Taiwan, Tibet, the religious minority of Uyghurs – but also as we see in the example of Fight Club considered very sensitive to public order, such as sex scenes.

Many Middle Eastern (and Asian markets outside of China) impose censorship: Hollywood has learned for decades now that scenes of sex, drug use, alcohol, pork, and the use of vulgarity are not compatible with the rules of certain markets. . For example, there are companies that deal with making versions for all of films that are prohibited for minors for viewing on airplanes: no violence, no sex, bad words covered by beeps or muted, obviously no plane crashes. a Pulcinella secret that Hollywood does not advertise, a situation to which it adapts in order not to lose proceeds and royalties.

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