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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 6:41am
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 11:14pm

Will James Bond bow to Beijing's censorship?

Mainland China is not yet on the official list of locations where Skyfall, the new 007 movie is scheduled to be released


George Chen is the Financial Editor and Mr. Shangkong Columnist at the South China Morning Post. George has covered China's political and economic changes since 2002. George is the author of two books -- This is Hong Kong I Know (2014) and Foreign Banks in China (2011). George has been named a 2014 Yale World Fellow. More about George: www.mrshangkong.com

Will James Bond decide that discretion is the better part of valour and kowtow to the Chinese government to avoid endangering Skyfall’s potentially huge box office in the Communist nation?

This is the burning question that’s on everyone’s lips online -- well, Chinese 007 fans, anyway -- since Skyfall, the 23rd - and latest - movie of the lucrative film franchise about British secret agent James Bond, also known as 007, was released in Hong Kong on November 1.

According to Skyfall’s official website, the film is distributed globally by two entertainment industry giants, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures, Mainland China is not yet on the list of locations where the movie is scheduled to be released.

Taiwan is on the list; the movie was released there on November 2, one day after making its debut in Hong Kong. Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province ever since 1949.

So, if the movie distributors have brought Skyfall to Taiwan and Hong Kong, why not Mainland China yet? From Beijing’s perspective, there may be a tiny little problem with the plot that needs to be tweaked.

A key baddie in the movie is Raoul Silva, a former British MI6 agent who was stationed in Hong Kong, for about ten years between 1986 and 1997 – yes, that was the year when China took over. Pay attention, because this is all part of the plot.

Just before Hong Kong was returned to China on July 1, 1997, Silva (played by Javier Bardem) hacked into Chinese government computers without MI6’s official permission, resulting in a diplomatic disaster between London and Beijing.

Because Beijing believed Silva had stolen important computer secrets, it kidnapped six MI6 agents and asked the British government to hand over Silva in return for the other six MI6 captives. M, the long-time head of MI6, agreed and then Silva was jailed and tortured by the Chinese.

So far, so predictable. Silva said he could not bear long-term torture – or perhaps we should call it “enhanced interrogation’’ – by the Chinese, who were eager to learn MI6’s secrets, and eventually managed to escape.

Now he’s out for revenge, justifiably blaming M for his imprisonment and torture by the Chinese.

Unsurprisingly, Silva doesn’t win because no one can beat Bond (played by Daniel Craig), whose mission on earth is to keep the union flag flying high. But any references to torture in Chinese prisons may set Beijing’s teeth on edge. Especially since the main premise of the film blithely assumes that China would willingly torture a foreigner.

Some movie industry sources say they believe the distributors of Skyfall are still in negotiations with the Chinese government to seek a face-saving solution to releasing the film in China without persisting in the ridiculous delusion that the Chinese government would ever torture anyone – its own people or foreign nationals -- for any reason.

One possible compromise is to delete the reference to China, which would not affect the main plot and is actually quite feasible.

Chinese netizens are apparently more creative than movie directors and writers.

One of them said in a posting on the mainland's popular microblogging site Sina Weibo: “Why not replace China with North Korea? Who cares about North Korea anyway?” That’s true. Apart from the Kim family, its hangers on and, of course, the huge North Korean army.

Another posting on Sina Weibo said: “Maybe the movie should be more specific about where the MI6 agent was tortured in China. How about Chongqing? That could make the new 007 movie look more realistic.”

I believe he could be referring to the downfall of one of the most senior Chinese officials Bo Xilai earlier this year, and the scandal over the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, which reads like a Robert Ludlum novel, even though it’s apparently all true (The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Heywood was one of MI6’s “useful” informants).

So, what do you think? Should they show it as it is in China – or make face saving cuts. What would James Bond do in a situation like this?


George Chen is the financial services editor at the South China Morning Post. The opinions expressed in the column Mr. Shangkong are all his own. Follow him on twitter.com/george_chen or weibo.com/georgeschen


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This article is now closed to comments

The Fanciful Norwegian
I don't believe for a second the delay is a matter of censorship. If the Film Bureau asks for cuts, they'll get them. Sony isn't going to write off the mainland market over a little thing like the film's integrity -- Hollywood imports get trimmed for China all the time, so why would they suddenly dig in their heels now? More likely, the Bureau is delaying it to 2013 because they're desperate to maintain a 50%+ annual market share for domestic films, and just one more huge Hollywood blockbuster could jeopardize that. The only Hollywood films set for the rest of the year -- "Rise of the Guardians," "Life of Pi," and a 3D reissue of "2012" -- aren't expected to be big hits, and "Skyfall" could plausibly gross more than all three of them put together. And all of this year's remaining import slots are already spoken for, so "Skyfall" couldn't get in anyway.
As for the lack of an announced mainland release date: release dates for imported films are rarely locked more than a month in advance -- less than a week in some cases, like "Looper." "Skyfall" won't be out until January at the earliest (and possibly as late as mid-February, according to industry rumor), so it would be MORE unusual if it already had a firm date.
George, u are overstating the bargaining power or buying power of China. Most of the profit of film makers are lost in the counterfeit DVD so please stop boasting about this.
Are you kidding SpeakFreely? If only 1% of the Chinese population care to go to the cinema to watch this movie, it is already twice HK's entire population. Less than half full runs happen for sure, but packed cinemas are not uncommon on weekends in shopping malls in the biggest cities. You laugh at mainland purchasing power, but Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing properties are already selling for 1/3 to 1/2 HK prices. Whence the resentment in HK about mainland shoppers and property buyers.
Same old story on the Mainland. The only reason the Chinese gov is so sensitive about this is because torture unfortunately does happen rather routinely on the Mainland. I'd rather the movie just skips a release in China altogether (people can always see it online or on a bootleg DVD) instead of encouraging this ridiculous system of media censorship.
It is a film for God’s sake! With a written story line for entertainment.
No hollywood script, written in America or the UK, could ever match the real-life events happening in mainland China. ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ as they say.
Does it really matter as it will be counterfeited anyway!


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