You’d think buying an entire film franchise for his son and setting it in China and letting the Chinese government sponsor it and making it about Kung Fu instead of Karate would be enough for Will Smith to get a pass from Chinese censors, but apparently they didn’t take too kindly to a scene in Men in Black 3 where a Chinatown restauranteur turns out to be an alien. The government insisted on removing three scenes in total, trimming the movie by 13 minutes.
The first features an extraterrestrial cunningly disguised as a Chinese waitress, while in the second a Chinese cashier girl attacks Will Smith’s character Agent J with her elastic alien tongue.
Perhaps the third deleted scene resonated most with the Chinese censors: It features Smith’s secret agent erasing the collective memories of a group of Chinese bystanders.
‘This could have been a hint on the use of internet censorship to maintain social stability,’ China’s Southern Daily newspaper mused.
Or, simply a metaphor for the way Men in Black movies instantly disappear from your mind the second you leave the theater. The DailyMail had an interesting rundown of what is and isn’t allowed:
Robert Cain, whose company Pacific Bridge Pictures specialises in Chinese productions, explained the problem: ‘Unless there is a flattering image of Chinese people, you are going to run into a challenge from the State Administration of Film, Television and Radio (SARFT).
‘The list of taboos is so long it is very often too difficult to make anything entertaining.
‘I had a friend submit a script and the censors asked him to change the name of one of the characters. He could not understand why, so he asked them and they said it was the pet name that Deng Xiaoping (former leader of the Communist Party) used for his granddaughter.’
Though they still exercise high levels of control over imported movies, film experts claim China’s rulers are gradually relaxing their grip. As recently as two years ago, the censors would simply block ‘offending’ films altogether.
(UNOFFICIAL) GUIDE TO CHINESE FILM CENSORSHIP
Rule 1: Chinese baddies are a no-no.
Rule 2: Films must give a positive impression of China’s cities and culture. (This stipulation apparently delayed the Chinese premiere of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, as the movie features robot leader Optimus Prime levelling half of Shanghai.)
Rule 3: Chinese military history must be treated with respect, especially the heritage of the People’s Liberation Army
Rule 4: Wrongdoing must be punished, so evil-doers always get their comeuppance.
Rule 5: Whatever the context, it’s never acceptable to show a fully naked body [DailMail]
As for specific examples, you may remember MGM spending at least a million dollars to change the villains in the upcoming Red Dawn remake from Chinese to North Koreans. (Which is considerably less manacing story, considering North Korea’s entire population is about the size of Southern California). Interestingly, the villain in Will Smith’s Karate Kid remake was a Chinese bully, but again, that was co-produced by the guy who actually does the censoring, and so probably escaped the normal scrutiny. Plus, Jackie Chan gave a performance that was eventually heralded as “Favorite Buttkicker” by the Kid’s Choice Awards, and not even the repressive Chinese regime would want to tarnish that. It’d be like drawing a dick on the Mona Lisa.