Chinese Censors Snip 40 Minutes Off 'Cloud Atlas'

Warner Bros. Pictures

Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ epoch-spanning epic takes its bow in Beijing with nearly one-fourth of the film missing.

HONG KONG -- For those who complained about Cloud Atlas being too convoluted for easy comprehension, spare a thought for the film’s Chinese viewers, who will have to make do with a version that’s missing 40 minutes from the original shown everywhere else in the world.

According to reports in the Chinese media, Cloud Atlas bowed Monday night in Beijing with a 130-minute cut -- much shorter than the 169-minute version released worldwide (including Hong Kong, which sustains a film-censorship system independent from mainland China). It is understood that the film’s three directors -- Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer -- were not involved in the re-edit.

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Speaking to the Chinese press before the film’s premiere, the directors said they acknowledged the “constraints” of releasing the film in China, but they trusted the editing qualities of the film’s Chinese co-producers, Dreams of the Dragon Pictures.

A report in the Shanghai-based Dongfang Daily said expository sequences and “passionate love scenes” were cut from the film, which opens Jan. 31 in China, while gory sequences depicting a character being shot in the head or another having his throat slit remained.

At the center of this screen adaptation of novelist David Mitchell’s multistranded Cloud Atlas is a romantic relationship between budding composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) and his Cambridge schoolmate Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) -- and it is highly likely that scenes from this thread were left off the Chinese version of the film, as same-sex romances remain a taboo for Chinese censors.

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In another scene, set in a 22nd century Korean city called Neo-Seoul, a human-replicant waitress (Chinese actress Zhou Xun) is shown having sex with her foreman -- an image that could run into problems with the authorities.

The film’s Chinese publicist did not respond to The Hollywood Reporter’s email queries on the matter. But the company’s CEO, Qiu Huashun, told the Chinese press in Beijing the cut was conducted to adhere to the censorship regulations of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

“Chinese audiences might want to see more of a popcorn movie, and considerations for the Chinese market were made in the making of the Chinese version of the film,” said the producer, who invested $10.5 million in the film, then bought the Chinese distribution rights for the film for another $3 million and stumped up another $5 million to take a 9 percent stake of the film’s revenue.

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Cloud Atlas is the second foreign production bowing in China in a censored cut in as many weeks. Skyfall arrived in Chinese cinemas Monday with a scene of the killing of a Chinese doorman cut out and subtitles that obscured the onscreen lines about a prostitution ring in Macau and torture meted out by Chinese intelligence services.