From The Times January 19, 2010
Confucius says no to ‘subversive’ blockbuster Avatar
The state-run China Film Group has instructed cinemas nationwide to stop showing the ordinary version of Avatar from January 23
Jane Macartney in Beijing
Here is the choice: a blockbuster involving noble aliens, evil humans and stunning effects that is breaking cinematic records all over the world. Or a patriotic film featuring the life of Confucius.
In China the public may not be given the choice at all. Despite long queues for tickets to see Avatar — which was expected to earn more than 500 million yuan (£45 million) at the Chinese box office — reports claim that the film will be removed from screens for being subversive.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported that the state-run China Film Group had instructed cinemas nationwide to stop showing the 2-D version of Avatar from January 23 on orders from Beijing’s propaganda chiefs.
It is not just the desire to entertain the masses with a Chinese movie that has prompted the censors to step in and pull James Cameron’s hit from 2-D screens. The Government fears that too many citizens might be making a link between the plight of Avatar’s Na’vi people as they are thrown off their land and the numerous, often brutal, evictions endured closer to home by residents who get in the way of property developers.
Avatar triumphs at Globes as Brits go empty handed
Britons leave Golden Globes empty-handed
Golden Globes 2010: the winners in full
PICTURES: Golden Globe Awards
POLL: vote for Ricky's best gag
The newspaper said: “Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar: first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced removal, and may possibly incite violence.”
China’s favourite blogger, Han Han, a twentysomething writer and racing-car driver, was among those who quickly spotted the similarity between the film’s plot and real life. He wrote: “For audiences in other countries, such brutal eviction is something beyond their imagination. It could only take place on another planet — or in China.”
Popular views of the film as an allegory for predatory property developers across China will not have gone down well with the Propaganda Department in Beijing. Blogs are buzzing with the news of Avatar’s imminent disappearance. The film opened on January 4 and soon drew lengthy queues despite one of the coldest winters in years. Box-office takings hit a record 56 million yuan for a single day and IMAX cinemas which show the full 3-D version are booked up for weeks. The film had been due to play until February 28, well past the Chinese new year holiday, which begins on February 14.
In the southern city of Wuxi, a multiple-screen cinema warned on its website that Avatar would now finish on Saturday and those with tickets beyond that date would be refunded. “We ask for your understanding! To satisfy the viewing needs of the audience, the cinema will add midnight showings from the 21st and 22nd. Grab them quickly,” it advised. The notice was soon removed, however, as the cinema said that only 2-D screens would stop showing the film.
China has only 550 3-D cinema screens, which means that holiday audiences will have no choice but flock to see Confucius, featuring the Hong Kong gangster star Chow Yun-Fat as the eponymous philosopher.
When his film premiered last week Mr Chow said he expected Confucius to put up a good fight against James Cameron’s science fiction fantasy. He may find it a lot easier now.