Skyfall, 23rd James Bond movie and biggest British blockbuster of 2012, is due for release in China on Monday 21st of January. However, word has sneaked over the wire that the version hitting Chinese screens will not be quite the same as the one the rest of us sat down to last year.
The film has reportedly been censored in order to make it acceptable to the Chinese authorities, who are pretty notorious when it comes to clamping down on anything even remotely critical of the country.
One entire scene has been cut – the one in which a French hitman shoots a Chinese security guard – and subtitles have been used to change the meaning of some conversations, including one between Bond (Daniel Craig) and Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe). In the uncensored version, Bond deduces that Sévérine was forced into prostitution when young, and is now little more than a sex slave for the mob. In the altered version, Chinese subtitles will now make it seem as though she has simply been coerced into a life of crime.
Lifting entire scenes out of films can be a very risky business, leaving behind loose ends and plot holes, but even the slightest narrative change can also have a knock-on effect, transforming the tone and meaning of subsequent scenes. Here’s one example – some viewers were very uncomfortable with the scene in which Bond happens upon Sévérine in the shower and promptly has sex with her only a short while after he has insightfully reasoned that she is a victim of multiple sex crimes. In the uncensored version, there is the rather uneasy feeling that Bond is taking advantage of a vulnerable abuse victim, while in the altered Chinese version he will appear to just be shacking up with a sexy criminal.
A film censored for release in China isn’t particularly big news – it happens all the time. Chinese censors have become well known for hacking about films due to perceived racism or cultural insult. Seen as a racial caricature, Chow Yun Fat’s character was edited completely out of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Also on the cutting room floor were scenes from Men in Black 3 and Mission: Impossible 3.
The reason that the censoring of Skyfall is getting quite a bit of attention is simply because it is Skyfall, and indisputably the biggest hitting film of last year. Still, even though it may seem like a relatively trivial matter, the manner of artistic censorship that is currently rife in China is a very telling symptom of bigger and badder troubles at the top. Therefore, we can’t dismiss it that easily.