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A source close to the situation tells The Hollywood Reporter that the auteur is taking a take-it-or-leave-it stance in the wake of Chinese regulators pulling the film from the schedule a week before its Oct. 25 release in the country.
THR reported Friday that the release of the acclaimed pic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, had been put on hold indefinitely. No explanation was given to Sony Pictures Entertainment, the studio behind the film, as to why. Sony declined to comment.
The decision to halt the release is speculated to be over Tarantino’s portrayal of the late martial arts hero Bruce Lee, who was of Chinese descent.
As THR previously reported, sources close to Beijing-based Bona Film Group, which is one of the investors in the film, and China’s Film Bureau say Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, made a direct appeal to China’s National Film Administration, asking that it demand changes to her father’s portrayal in the pic. Friends and family of the Hollywood action star have criticized Tarantino for his depiction of Lee, saying it doesn’t resemble the real-life man and is instead a caricature.
But Tarantino, who is known to be opposed to any kind of tinkering with his films and has final-cut rights included in his contract, has no plans to bring the movie back to the editing bay, especially given that China has offered no explanation for what is objectionable in the film, which revolves around the events leading up to the infamous Manson Family murders of 1969.
One source suggested that China may finally be balking at Once Upon a Time‘s violence, which is graphic at times but far less than a typical Tarantino film, even though regulators initially approved it for release there (Bona was poised to handle distribution duties in China for the China launch).
Once Upon a Time would have marked Tarantino’s first proper release in China and tapped into the country’s enormous box office potential. The film has earned $366 million to date and likely would have topped the $400 million mark after bowing in the Middle Kingdom. DiCaprio remains a huge star in China thanks to 1997’s Titanic, which became a gigantic hit in the country earlier in his career.
In recent months, China has sought to exert greater control over the American entertainment sector, particularly when it comes the industry’s reaction to the situation in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protestors have faced a violent response from mainland-backed police forces. Perhaps feeling the economic heat, everyone from Mulan actress Crystal Liu to Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James have either sided with the Chinese regime or denounced any criticism of its authoritarian tactics.
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker continue to be a thorn in the side of the Chinese regime as well, thanks to a series of episodes mocking the country’s rulers as well as the celebrities who appear to be ignoring its human rights abuses and toeing the party line.
Many Hollywood studio films have undergone edits in order to get into China, including last year’s Oscar-winning Queen music biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which removed any mention of protagonist Freddie Mercury’s sexual orientation (China frowns upon films with gay leads).
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