The bonus, moviegoers discovered when the film opened last week, was an alternate ending. Its effect: to show that good triumphs over evil, in line with the desire of Chinese censors to depict a Beijing-endorsed social message.
In the original version of the movie, Gru, a budding villain voiced by Steve Carrell, and his comrade in crime, Wild Knuckles, escape capture. But in the Chinese cut, Gru promises to “lead a good and honest life” and returns to his three young daughters. (Some Chinese viewers saw this as a nod to Beijing’s attempt to reverse its low birthrate.) Wild Knuckles, on the other hand, is caught and charged to a prison term.
The edit unleashed a torrent of mockery online, with a Weibo post that compiled ridicule of the ending getting some 60,000 likes in 24 hours. Another WeChat blog post received more than 100,000 views before being removed. Film reviewers recognized the attempt to please China — which became the world’s largest pandemic movie market by box office revenue during the — by including Chinese elements such as a dragon dance and acupuncture. But they lamented that the version they got to watch was “condescending.”
It was an ending with “socialist core values,” said one commentator on Weibo.
“Why are we the only ones to get the [extra minute of] special guidance and care to be protected from the ‘bad influence’ of an animation?” DuSir, a movie blogger with over 14 million followers, wrote in a since-deleted post. “How vulnerable and lacking in judgment do they think the Chinese audience is?”
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The late August release in China of the latest Minions installment came more than a month after US audiences first saw the film. China typically reserves June through August for domestic films, which Beijing seeks to promote as a counterweight to the dominance of Hollywood. Huaxia Film Distribution and China Film, the distributors of “Rise of Gru” in China, did not immediately return requests for comment.
A senior Chinese official this month told US filmmakers to show more cultural respect, in a rare public remark about censorship after China recently shunned a series of American blockbusters, including the latest Spider-Man film and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
“We hope America can continue to improve the quality of its films on the basis of respecting our culture, customs and audience habits,” Sun Yeli, a Chinese Communist Party vice minister of propaganda, told a briefing last Thursday. “We will import from whichever countries that make better films and titles that [better] fit the taste of Chinese audiences.”
Many other film studios have agreed to omit or alter films — sometimes to the extent of changing their storyline — to access the Chinese market. Titles that don’t meet the demands of censors risk getting barred or shelved indefinitely. (Notably, “Top Gun: Maverick” became a global hit without airing in China.)
The Hong Kong cult crime thriller “Infernal Affairs,” which Martin Scorsese remade to Oscar-winning success as “The Departed,” had an alternative ending for the mainland Chinese market to avoid being snubbed for appearing to promote criminal activity. In the original version, a character manages to conceal his identity as a triad spy, while in the Beijing-approved cut, he is arrested.
Chinese censors also slashed more than 10 minutes from “Logan,” the 2017 superhero film starring Hugh Jackman in his final performance as Wolverine, after some fight scenes were deemed too violent. References to homosexuality in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” and the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” were trimmed, as it remains a taboo topic in China.
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The censorship is not limited to theatrical releases, as Chinese streaming services have also reportedly cut or altered older films.
Earlier this year, Chinese viewers realized that Tencent Video had changed the ending of David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” which was released in 1999. Its original conclusion shows the success of a subversive plan to remodel society, with buildings being destroyed by bombs. The Tencent version was far less explosive: instead, viewers got an on-screen graphic saying that the police foiled the plot, arrested all the criminals and sent the protagonist to an asylum. (The actual ending was later restored after viewers protested.)
When “Friends” was relaunched on Chinese streaming platforms earlier this year, video site Bilibili excised references to the ex-wife of main character Ross being lesbian.
And in “Lord of War,” a film starring Nicolas Cage as a fictional Ukrainian arms smuggler, audiences are told the main characters receives life imprisonment instead of being freed.
“When told that… ‘Fight Club’ has no explosion, and Nicolas Cage was arrested [in ‘Lord of War’]you’ll start to question if what you remembered of the movies was real,” said one commentator on Weibo.