The tale of how Hollywood and Red China came together may be fascinating, but it is already out of date.
When Tom Cruise chases the bad guys through the streets of Shanghai in Mission Impossible III (2006), in the original cut, the city’s streets are topped by clotheslines hanging from apartment buildings. Paramount Pictures cut the clotheslines from the final version at the behest of Chinese officials, who thought it made Shanghai look backward. Erich Schwartzel makes the obvious pun in his fine new history of Hollywood in China, Red Carpet: “The censors made sure no one could see China’s dirty laundry.”
His other examples of censorship are not so droll. The zombie movie World War Z (2013) cut a scene where a character explains that the zombie outbreak originated in China. Men in Black 3 (2012) cut a scene where Will Smith uses his memory-erasing neuralyzer on a group of Chinese bystanders, presumably because it invited comparison to Chinese Internet censorship. The film bureau doesn’t explain its decisions, so the motivation behind its cuts is a matter of speculation.
Schwartzel’s story begins in 1994, when Beijing first allowed American films to be shown in China at a rate of ten movies per year. The relationship between Hollywood and Beijing blossomed, and China is now the largest film market in the world. Studios are wary of doing anything to jeopardize their access to a country where billion-dollar grosses are routine. If that means scrambling in post-production to change the invaders in the 2012 Red Dawn remake from Chinese to North Korean, so be it.