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Will James Bond bow to Beijing's censorship?
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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