BERLIN - Chinese censors have made some significant changes to several parts of the latest James Bond film “Skyfall.” One scene, showing a French hitman killing a Chinese guard in a Shanghai skyscraper, was cut out entirely. So was a mention of prostitution in Macau.
Other changes are reflected in the subtitles. In the original version of the movie, Bond asks a hostess if she got her tattoo because she was forced into prostitution as a child. The Chinese subtitles change this and have Bond asking the young woman if she has connections to the Mafia. The subtitles also leave out entirely what bad guy Javier Bardem has to say about the torture he suffered at the hands of Chinese police.
And yet making substantive changes when a movie is translated into another language is hardly limited to the Chinese. Right after the end of World War II, the Germans censored Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946). In the film, Cary Grant finds uranium powder hidden in wine bottles in the cellar of a Nazi who has fled to Rio de Janeiro and smuggles German war criminals into Brazil.
In Germany, the movie came out in 1951 bearing the title “Weißes Gift” (White Poison). Right after the war, the German distributors didn’t want a story about Nazis – so when the movie was dubbed the entire plot was changed into a story about drug trafficking, and even the names of the German characters were changed to non-German names. In 1969, when a restored version of the movie was released in Germany, there was still no mention of IG Farben (a conglomerate of German chemical companies involved in many World War II war crimes) that in the original version of the film is the force pulling the bad guys’ strings.
Monaco slams “fictional” biopic
This type of commercial censorship – which is not any better than political censorship – has not disappeared in the West. On the contrary, it’s becoming more prevalent. Those born after 1984 might not remember the day the Soviet Union invaded the United States. It began when parachutists descended on the small town of Calumet. They shot the place up, burned books and even occupied the drive in. Similar scenarios were going on all over America. Fortunately some high school students were able to get away to the mountains where, led by Patrick Swayze and calling themselves the Wolverines, they embarked on a guerilla war against the invaders.
“Red Dawn” is now nearly 30 years old. In the 2012 remake, the invaders are the Chinese, supported by the Russians. That is, they were Chinese when the movie was shot – but when it was released the Chinese had become North Koreans. With the help of the new digital eraser (and at a cost of $1 million to MGM) all Chinese flags and other symbols had disappeared and had been replaced by North Korean ones.
The changes weren’t even prompted by any official Chinese complaint. A few feature articles in Chinese state-owned newspapers and critical comments on Chinese websites were enough to make MGM change its mind: after all, a lot was at stake: the movie studio was hoping for big-time profits from the distribution in China of “The Hobbit” and "Skyfall." After all, the last Bond brought in $21 million in China, which is the fifth biggest movie market outside North America.
Hopes were dampened however when China postponed the premiere of “Skyfall” from November (which is when it opened in the rest of the world) to December – presumably to make room for their own November blockbusters like Feng Xiaogang’s “Remembering 1942” and Lu Chuan’s “The Last Supper.” The postponement led to the ironic fact that the uncensored Bond film in China can only be seen on pirated copies.
We can now look forward to the biopic “Grace of Monaco,” due out next year. Although shooting isn’t even over yet, Prince Albert of Monaco and his two sisters have released a statement that reads in part: "For us, this film does not constitute a biographical work but portrays only a part of Grace Kelly’s life and has been pointlessly glamorized and contains important historical inaccuracies as well as scenes of pure fiction." Despite the angry tone of the press release, there has so far been no talk of bringing a suit against the moviemakers.
The film focuses on the 1961-1962 years, when Kelly had ended her Hollywood career and reigned as Princess Grace in the tiny Mediterranean principality alongside her husband Rainier III. At the time, relations between Monaco and France were strained because of the former’s tax policies. Grace is said to have played an important role in finding a compromise to the conflict.
"Albert, Caroline and Stephanie read the script twice, and didn’t request any major changes," producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam said last month. The reason for their apparent change of mind could be an article that appeared in French magazine Paris Match in which the film’s director Olivier Dahan implied that the Monaco royals had approved his script. Now the palace is saying that it requested changes that weren’t made.