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HONG KONG — News of Django Unchained’s enforced disappearance from mainland Chinese cinemas has angered local filmgoers, with some explicitly saying they will now watch the film on pirated discs or as illegal downloads rather than waiting for the film to return to theaters.
Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning Western has already reportedly been available in pirated disc shops as well as online, but up until yesterday bloggers had been expressing their desire to experience the film in a cinema for the first time. None of Tarantino’s previous films have been released in China, including Kill Bill, which was actually partly shot in Beijing.
With the film pulled from cinemas, bloggers have now said they will watch the film at home illegally. “Chinese film buffs are the most dismayed and helpless of all,” said a blogger who goes by the handle of “cfcu.” “Even when we are watching dated movies we had our screenings stopped. Luckily, we still have pirated discs!”
Another blogger, Heilaoda, posted: “I originally planned to see Django Unchained in a cinema today — but the shameless [film regulators] State Administration of Radio, Film and Television suddenly stopped the film. After waiting for so many days I wouldn’t want to wait anymore — so I downloaded the HD version of the film and watched it.”
While many bloggers have expressed surprise about the Chinese censors giving the film the green light — with its Chinese distributors, Sony China, confidently claiming the film will be released in full with just minor adjustments in the color and extent of blood being shed on screen — the news of the film’s sudden fall from grace still astounded many. There was an extensive publicity campaign in the country, which included Leonardo DiCaprio granting telephone interviews to even provincial-level newspapers.
Some bloggers reported on the morning of April 11, the film’s opening day, of how screenings were brought to an end just a minute after the film started, with staff explaining that they had to stop the film to adhere to a directive from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. Since then, the film has also been removed from online listings of the country’s cinema chains.
Sources say Tarantino and his camp were completely surprised by the move and still have no indication why it happened.
“We regret that Django Unchained has been removed from theaters and are working with the Chinese authorities to determine whether the film can be rescheduled,” Sony Pictures spokesman Steve Elzer said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
With distributors Sony China declining comment and the authorities claiming the pulling of the film is due to “technical reasons” — which many bloggers deemed impossible given how a handful of midnight screenings went ahead without problems in the early hours of April 11 — the blogosphere is abuzz with speculation of why the film was withdrawn, with many attributing the decision to how censors might have missed the display of male genitalia in the film.
On a more serious note, some commentators also described the messy way the film was pulled as very damaging to the Chinese government’s attempts at positioning the country — and the new regime headed by Xi Jinping — as a serious international force undertaking social reforms.
Hu Xijin, an editor of the state-backed Global Times and known for his hardline conservative political views, also said the abrupt cessation of the film’s release “has brought much more harm to the country and its politics than merely cutting out ‘harmful scenes.’ ”
“At present there is a lack of people within the establishment who could report to the powers that be about the real situation so as to avoid [the application of] wrong policies,” he wrote in a post. “Maybe the establishment really doesn’t encourage people to do this. With the frequent strange decisions made by departments around the country, the price paid will be the government’s credibility.”
This latest episode mirrors the way the Chinese censors rescinded on their decision to grant a screening license to Lou Ye‘s thriller Mystery, which was greenlighted by the authorities before it premiered at Cannes in May. Angered by demands that the film to be reworked — the authorities asked the director to cut the number of blows a character lands on another – Lou took his name off the final “approved” version of the film.
Both mainstream and independent filmmakers and producers — from Bona Film CEO Yu Dong to indie stalwart Zhang Yuan — have been very vocal about replacing the country’s vague censorship system with a clear, age-driven classification system. At present, films are either banned from being screened in the country, or released for audiences of all ages.
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