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An outdoor screening of The Dark Knight was cancelled because it featured violent scenes. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

The Dark Knight does not return: Hong Kong organisers dismiss suggestion Batman film replaced with Iron Man flick on national security grounds

  • Event organisers clarify previous decision, say Batman film was pulled because movie’s violent scenes were unsuitable for outdoor screening
  • Film experts say government suggestion to pull film was right move, following speculation it was switched over national security concerns

An outdoor screening of a popular Batman film in Hong Kong was cancelled because it contained violent scenes, the event’s organisers have said, quashing speculation about any link to national security concerns.

A government spokesman also called a foreign media report which suggested authorities had banned the screening of The Dark Knight at the event in Central Harbourfront as “groundless”, explaining organisers had made the decision to replace the movie after receiving advice from the city’s film regulatory body.

The controversy erupted when it emerged that the 2008 movie, which featured scenes in Hong Kong and was originally scheduled to show at The Grounds on October 27, had been cancelled and replaced with another Hollywood film Iron Man.

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The event’s organisers announced the decision on Wednesday via social media, but originally did not disclose the reason behind the move, prompting speculation that the decision was due to the city’s film censorship law. The legislation was amended last year to empower the chief secretary to ban the showing of previously approved movie productions for national security reasons.

The film censorship legislation was amended after Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong two years ago, which outlaws acts of subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.

But The Grounds on Friday clarified the decision to replace the film was because the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) had suggested violent scenes featured in The Dark Knight would make it unsuitable for outdoor screenings.


“The Grounds decided to make a change of movie based on OFNAA’s recommendation. … This discussion is not unusual. It is a normal part of the licensing process,” a company spokeswoman said.

Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung. Photo: Handout

Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said that, while the decision was not made by his bureau, there was a “solid system” in place for determining whether a film was suitable to screen on certain occasions.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Algernon Yau Ying-wah, who oversees the film regulatory body, said he had noted the organisers’ clarification but did not provide any additional comment.

Film experts also suggested the ban should be attributed to the audience guidelines, instead of national security concerns.


James Marsh, a film critic, cited The Dark Knight’s Category IIB classification, meaning it is not suitable for young persons and children, as a reason behind the ban.

“It is probably not suitable to show it in a big outdoor screening … you should be able to screen whatever you want, but it’s outside and right beside the Star Ferry. Anybody on that walkway can see the screen. I think that’s the issue in this case,” he said.

The Dark Knight features scenes in Hong Kong as Batman pursues a criminal beyond the boundaries of Gotham City. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

The Grounds’ calendar showed that films in other time slots were either listed as Category I, suitable for all ages, and Category IIA, not suitable for children, with the Batman movie from 2008 being the one with a higher classification, he said.


The film’s sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, which remained on the cinema’s calendar and is scheduled to be screened on November 3, is classified as Category IIA.

“The reason why the government was vague is because IIB is only an advisory rating and it’s not legally binding,” Marsh added.

Tenky Tin Kai-man, executive committee chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, said the national security law was more of a concern for film production than the screening of previously approved movies.


While The Dark Knight was a screened movie, Tin said: “Upcoming productions may need to keep in mind these kinds of issues.”

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According to his understanding, Tin said the government had originally suggested the organisers edit the movie before the outdoor screening, but the latter eventually decided to replace it instead.

The Dark Knight depicts Batman, the crime-fighting alter-ego of billionaire Bruce Wayne, working with district attorney Harvey Dent and senior police officer Jim Gordon to save Gotham City from the criminal mastermind Joker.


The film features scenes in Hong Kong, with local landmarks such as the International Finance Centre making an appearance, as Batman pursues a corrupt Chinese businessman.

Warner Bros Pictures, the producer of the film, decided not to screen The Dark Knight in mainland China when it was initially released in 2008, but the movie was screened in Hong Kong’s cinemas at the time.

The Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration said it would not comment on applications for individual films, and had yet to respond on whether there was any rule in place that banned outdoor screenings of films listed as Category IIB.