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HONG KONG — Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, once bound for China and then shockingly reshackled, could still get a chance to roll out in the world’s second-largest movie market. The mainland Chinese publicists working on behalf of Sony China, the film’s distributor, have reiterated that work is now under way with government authorities to facilitate its release in the country.
In a message posted Friday to the Weibo account (China’s version of Twitter) run by the film’s Chinese publicists, they thank “all our friends and enthusiastic fans,” before saying, “We will try our best to do our job, so as to allow Django Unchained to meet all of you as soon as possible.”
Soon after news broke on Thursday morning that China Film Group, the state-backed institution in charge of importing films into the country, had ordered cinemas to cancel all screenings of Django Unchained, Sony Picture Entertainment’s Los Angeles-based spokesman Steve Elzer issued a statement expressing “regret” about the decision and saying that the company is “working with the Chinese authorities to determine whether the film can be rescheduled.”
Since then, Sony has refrained from directly commenting further on the situation. A spokesperson from the company’s Chinese arm declined to respond to The Hollywood Reporter’s questions about the reasons for the ban, and would neither confirm nor deny rumors appearing across Chinese social media on Friday morning claiming that the involved parties are now eyeing an April 30 release in the country.
With neither the authorities nor distributors offering an explanation for the sudden ban, speculation has abounded online in China about what led officials to make such a surprising and seemingly belligerent late-game move. With Tarantino himself reportedly having toned down some of the bloodshed for the film’s Chinese release, the dominant opinion among Weibo users has zeroed in on Kerry Washington‘s brief nude scene and the uncomfortable sequence that features Jamie Foxx, as Django, hanging upside-down while a slave master graphically threatens to separate him from his man parts.
Speaking to THR, a manager of a major mainland Chinese film chain — who declined to be named because of the political sensitivity surrounding the film’s suspension — said the rumored re-release date is “plausible,” as it would allow the distributors ample time to collect all of the digital copies of the film, do the editing as demanded by the censors, and send them back to individual theaters.
The industry insider said he and his colleagues have privately watched the Chinese cut of Django Unchained and that the on-screen nudity – such as the scene where Washington is pulled from a prison cell, or “hot box” and briefly shown topless; or when a hillbilly jumps up from a bathtub bottomless before getting blasted by Django — does transgress stated regulations barring films from showing “full-frontal nudity of male or female bodies”.
“You could argue it’s acceptable for them to stop the film because of the content — but the problem here is the way they did it,” he added.
Ever since Django Unchained was confirmed for an April 11 release in China, distributors have spent heavily on an extensive publicity blitz across the country, with the relatively reclusive Leonardo DiCaprio giving telephone interviews to local media and Sony China’s director, Zhang Miao, openly discussing how the film had passed through the state censorship system largely intact, with Tarantino only making slight adjustments to the color and extent of the film’s notoriously bloody sequences.
Media previews of the movie took place in the run-up to the film’s opening day, and the film unspooled without incident during after-midnight screenings on the eve of opening day. It was only at around 10 a.m. on Thursday that an official directive was channeled across the country requesting all cinema operators to immediately cancel all showings of Django — including, among others, a press screening in Guangzhou, one of China’s biggest cities.
“We have seen films pulled from screens after they’ve already been given the go-ahead, like when Lost In Beijing was stopped a week into its run,” said the Chinese theater chain manager, referring to the Li Yu film from 2007 about a waitress (Fan Bingbing) who is raped and impregnated by her employer and then coerced into handing the baby over to him and his wife. “But to stop such a high-profile film on its first day of release in such a manner, to such immediate effect — it’s really unheard of.”
The insider also noted that Lost in Beijing was blacklisted in large part for what officials dubbed “excessive promotion” of its risqué content. “We heard that within the establishment they said the content was not as big a problem as the controversy whipped up by its vocal publicity,” he added. “Of course, this time around, Sony also boasted about the film coming complete without a single cut and with all the juicy content intact. But in our media-saturated society today, why would they suddenly backtrack and clamp down on it like this just before the film opens?”
The theater manager also said the official reason for the film being pulled because of “technical reasons” is implausible, since the password provided by China Film Group for accessing the digital cinema package containing the film still works. “But we were told it would be a serious breach of regulations if anyone is to show the film now,” he said.
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