Wed, Jan 23, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Hollywood muzzled?

Hollywood is shifting toward China-friendly fantasies that will fit within a revised quota system, which allows more international films to be distributed in China. But there are concerns about how Chinese censors are shaping American movies

By Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes  /  NY Times News Service, Los Angeles

For Americans, the hard part is knowing what might suddenly cause trouble — initial approvals notwithstanding. In 2009, Sony Pictures and its partner, the China Film Group, submitted their script for The Karate Kid to China’s censors, and dutifully changed parts of the story to suit them. But the finished film was rejected, according to people who were briefed on the process, essentially because film bureaucrats were unhappy that its villain was Chinese.

After negotiation, 12 minutes of the film were cut, and it was released in China, although later than intended.

Some filmmakers here suggest that impositions by the China censors are similar to the restrictions imposed by a ratings system administered by the Motion Picture Association of America. But Joan Graves, chairwoman of Hollywood’s ratings board, insists otherwise.

“We’re the only major country with a ratings system that does it on a voluntary basis,” she said.

Steven Soderbergh, whose film Contagion was shot partly in Hong Kong, said the participation of China’s censors simply added to the chorus of input that surrounds every big-budget filmmaker.

“I’m not morally offended or outraged,” Soderbergh said. “It’s fascinating to listen to people’s interpretations of your story.”

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