Chinese Censors Snip 40 Minutes Off 'Cloud Atlas'

Clarence Tsui
The Hollywood Reporter
Chinese Censors Snip 40 Minutes Off 'Cloud Atlas'

HONG KONG – For those who complained about Cloud Atlas being too convoluted for easy comprehension, spare a thought for the film’s Chinese viewers, who will have to make do with a version that’s missing 40 minutes from the original shown everywhere else in the world.

According to reports in the Chinese media, Cloud Atlas bowed in Beijing on Monday night in a 130-minute cut – much shorter than the 169-minute version released worldwide (including Hong Kong, which sustains a film censorship system independent from mainland China). It is understood that the film’s three directors – Andy Wachowski, his sister Lana and Germany’s Tom Tykwer – were not involved in the re-edit.

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Speaking to the Chinese press before the film’s premiere, the three directors said they acknowledged the “constraints” of releasing the film in China, but they trusted the editing qualities of the film’s Chinese co-producers, Dreams of the Dragon Pictures.

A report in the Shanghai-based Dongfang Daily said expository sequences and “passionate love scenes” were edited out from the film, which opens in China on Jan. 31, while gory sequences depicting a character being shot in the head or another having his throat slit remained.

At the center of this screen adaptation of novelist David Mitchell’s multi-stranded Cloud Atlas is a relationship between budding composer Robert Frobisher (played by Ben Whishaw) and his Cambridge schoolmate Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) – and it is high likely that scenes from this thread were left off the Chinese version of the film, as same-sex romances remain a taboo for Chinese censors.

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In another scene, set in a 22nd century Korean city called Neo-Seoul, a human-replicant waitress (played by Chinese actress Zhou Xun) is shown having sex with her foreman – an image which could run into problems with the authorities.

The film’s Chinese publicist did not respond to The Hollywood Reporter’s e-mail queries on the matter. But the company’s CEO, Qiu Huashun, told the Chinese press in Beijing the cut was conducted to adhere to the censorship regulations of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

“Chinese audiences might want to see more of a popcorn movie, and considerations for the Chinese market were made in the making of the Chinese version of the film,” said the producer, who invested US$10.5 million in the film, then bought the Chinese distribution rights for the film for another $3 million and stumped up another $5 million to take a 9 percent stake of the film’s revenues.

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Cloud Atlas is the second foreign production bowing in China in a censored cut in as many weeks. Skyfall, which was released in the country on Monday, arrived in Chinese cinemas  with a scene of the killing of a Chinese doorman cut out, and subtitles which obscured the on-screen lines about a prostitution ring in Macau and torture meted out by Chinese intelligence services.