Chinese censors tinker with 'Transformers'


BEIJING -- China's government once again demonstrated its sensitivity to portrayal of the country in foreign movies.

Even-handed online debate in China about "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and its depiction of Shanghai didn't stop media monitors from bleeping the name of China's biggest city from the soundtrack of the DreamWorks film, which was released here this week.

The censorship, though fleeting, is the latest in a series of cuts to Hollywood imports perceived by communist authorities to malign China's image, and it is significant given the scale of the potential audience for the film.

China was the third-biggest non-U.S. territory for director Michael Bay's first "Transformers" and the biggest Hollywood title of 2007 in the territory. It scored an astonishing RMB276 million, then worth $36.8 million from just over 9 million admissions.

In the opening battle sequence of the $200 million "Transformers" sequel, the Autobots and Decepticons drop lots of bombs as they chase one another about a shabby-looking industrial part of Shanghai, actually portrayed by a defunct Pennsylvania steel mill.

A billboard over a highway featured in the chase features Metersbonwe, China's first publicly listed fashion retailer, in its first big Hollywood product placement -- the work of L.A.-based Norm Marshall Associates.

Soon after, a U.S. military commander barks that somebody isn't happy about the fight ... "not after all the damage done in S****hai," he shouts, but the city's name is garbled.

An official at distributor United International Pictures declined comment on censorship and said the company was not tracking the boxoffice of the film in China. "It's not a story for us," the official said.

The audience at Wanda Cinemas in Beijing was nonplussed at the aural augmentation. In a nearly full theater at midday on hot and muggy Friday, the film's third day of release, one young, male Chinese moviegoer asked aloud, "Why'd they cut that?"

Moviegoers also wondered about the censors' choices in 2006, when scenes of elderly Chinese playing mahjong and of laundry hanging out Shanghai windows were clipped from "Mission: Impossible 3."

China does not have a movie ratings system.

On Friday, a list of the pros and cons of the latest "Transformers" movie was posted to the China web site of Hong Kong-based (Mandarin-language) progressive satellite broadcaster Phoenix TV, which claimed to have conducted an online poll about the film.

"Some Chinese netizens are not happy about this movie because Shanghai appears to be very shabby in the movie which they think is not a real representation of the city," www.ifeng.com said.

In addition to the Shanghai neighborhood's near-destruction by the robots and the Western Allied military, there's also a scene in which robots smash through a Chinese house filled with antique furniture.

Ifeng.com, and the People's Daily, which also ran the pros and cons list, described "Transformers" film stills showing a Chinese police car and a damaged viaduct at Shanghai's Huaihai Road. Those images appeared to have been cut from the theatrical print.

Ifeng.com also said some people had asked, "Aren't some Chinese overreacting to this science fiction movie? They cannot even stand an old house! Aren't they being too sensitive?"

Uncut versions of the film, in which robot battles do much greater damage to Egypt's famous pyramids, were available on Beijing's streets on Friday as illegal $1 DVDs, and on the Chinese Internet sites btchina.com and verycd.com.
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