Someone in Hollywood is finally standing up to China.
Bucking the trend of the big studios, which have been routinely allowing Chinese censors to dictate movie content, Quentin Tarantino has made it clear that he will not alter his latest film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as Chinese officials had demanded.
As a result, China has cancelled the release of Tarantino’s fantasy-dramedy, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The homage to 1960s Hollywood had originally been scheduled to hit Chinese movie screens on October 25.
Chinese officials have not publicly revealed exactly what they found to be objectionable in the movie. Reportedly, the reason that the demand to modify came about was because of the filmmaker’s depiction of legendary martial arts practitioner and actor Bruce Lee.
Lee’s daughter Shannon had reportedly requested that the National Film Administration of China intervene over the portrayal of her father in the movie as a conceited braggart.
In a recent interview with The Wrap, Shannon inserted a broader controversy into her objections concerning the film.
“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie, I understand that the two characters are antiheroes and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen… and they’re portraying a period of time that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion. I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-a** who could beat up Bruce Lee,” Shannon stated.
“But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive,” she added.
When the subject came up at a recent press conference in Moscow, Tarantino defended the depiction of Lee in the film, telling reporters the following:
“I heard him say things like that, to that effect. If people are saying, ‘Well he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali,’ well yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read… She absolutely said it. Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy. The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up.”
Media content is routinely and strictly controlled by communist bureaucrats in China as has been recently observed with the banning of Winnie the Pooh, the animated series “South Park,” and the NBA pre-season games.
It is yet to be seen whether Tarantino will hold the line and remain solid in his refusal to bend to the Chinese powers that be. In the past, the filmmaker made cuts to scenes in the movie “Django Unchained” after Chinese censors exerted pressure and the film’s release was cancelled.
After “Django Unchained” was re-edited and released in China, it ended up flopping, taking in a meager $2.7 million, despite a global box office of $425 million. However, Tarantino’s current offering, “Once Upon a Time,” features DiCaprio, an actor fave of Chinese audiences. Expectations were that the film was going to do much better than the above described re-edit debacle.
A critics’ favorite, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has increasingly become a part of the buzz surrounding next year’s Academy Awards. The movie’s performance has been a solid one at the box office, with a $367 million take. Its profit margin has been even more impressive, thanks to a budget of a mere $90 million.
If it were solely up to the studio, which is Sony Pictures, the Chinese censors might have had an easier time getting their way. However, Tarantino was able to obtain the contractual right to the final edited version of the movie, and that puts the filmmaker in the catbird seat in terms of decisions regarding any modifications to the final cut.