Chinese Censors Clamp Down on 'Skyfall'

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Berenice Marlohe and Daniel Craig in 'Skyfall' (Photo: MGM/Columbia Pictures)
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HONG KONG – James Bond might have escaped from China unscathed in his latest adventure, but the same can’t be said of Skyfall itself – as shots of a Chinese character being killed and dialogue referring to prostitution and politics were either edited out or left obscured in subtitles.

The missing scene was set in Shanghai, when a French hitman (played by Ola Rapace) is shown shooting a Chinese security guard in the elevator lobby of a skyscraper before preparing for an assassination.

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Later in the film, in a casino in Macau, Daniel Craig’s Bond questions the story’s femme fatale, Severine (Berenice Marlohe), about whether her tattoo is the result of her being forced into a local prostitution ring at an early age. While the lines remains intact on the soundtrack, the Chinese subtitles suggest the spy is asking her quarry about being coerced into the mob instead.

The film’s Chinese subtitles also fudged the exposition of the back story of the film’s villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who tells Bond how he was handed over to the Chinese authorities while working for the MI6 in Hong Kong. He adds that he suffered immense torture at the hands of his interrogators before attempting to kill himself.

Sony Pictures’ Chinese representatives declined to comment on the changes. But it is not uncommon for international blockbusters to be released in China with potentially politically or culturally controversial scenes edited out. Men in Black 3 was screened in China only after the removal of scenes depicting aliens masquerading as Chinese restaurant workers in New York, and a group of Chinese pedestrians having their memories wiped out by Will Smith’s character.

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While being granted permission to be shot in Shanghai, Mission: Impossible 3 also drew the wrath of China’s censors because of sequences showing men playing mahjong next to a room where a hostage is held, and images of what they saw as unkempt laundry lines in the streets. Meanwhile, Chow Yun-fat’s character in Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End was edited out completely in the film’s Chinese release, with officials disapproving of what they saw as a racial caricature.

Skyfall was originally slated for release in China in November. The postponed release was reportedly the result of authorities’ hope of giving domestic blockbusters such as Back to 1942 and The Last Supper, which were released late November, a better chance at theaters to bolster year-end box office results for Chinese-language productions.

Skyfall will be the only major foreign production unspooling in Chinese cinemas in the next 10 days, with Cloud Atlas (which stars Chinese A-lister Zhou Xun and is co-produced by Hong Kong’s Media Asia) opening Jan. 31, followed by Jack Reacher on Feb. 16 and then The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Feb. 21. Backed by a lot of buzz in the local media, the Bond film is expected to perform well in China, with its run possibly challenged on Feb. 10 when Stephen Chow’s comedy JTTW opens at the start of the traditional Lunar New Year holidays.

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As part of its publicity blitz in China, Craig answered questions from the audience of the film’s Beijing premiere through a live video link Wednesday night. Fielding questions from journalists and viewers, the actor spoke about the number of suits he had at his disposal during the film’s production (30 sets of six) and his favorite “Bond Girl” (“I think Judi Dench will be the Bond girl – and always will be”) and his hopes for the franchise (“I hope it lasts for another 50 years – but not with me”).