Chinese checkers

U.S. tentpoles get a Far East once-over

SYDNEY — The Chinese government has ruled that no Hollywood films can launch in the mainland’s cinemas for seven weeks in the heart of summer, delaying the bows of the “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Harry Potter” sequels.

The blackout for U.S. and other foreign pics will start June 19 and end in the first week of August, according to distribs who deal with China.

Some U.S. execs believe the ruling is linked to a speech last week by China’s President Hu Jintao when he announced a campaign to “strengthen the moral and ideological fiber” of the country’s youth.

That follows edicts banning TV programming that depicts violence and corruption and propagates “Western values and lifestyle,” and admonitions to local TV hosts to eschew “queer clothes and colorful hairdos.” Also, thousands of unlicensed Internet cafes frequented by youth have been shut down in the past few months.

One U.S. rep believes the blackout is triggered partly by China’s reaction to the Americans’ mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, noting Hu’s remarks are similar in tone to Beijing’s response to the bombing of its embassy in Belgrade.

He fears Hu’s sentiments will be reflected in the country’s first cinema censorship rating system that is being hammered out by officials at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

Others think the blackout is also related to Beijing’s desire to eliminate competition for director Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers,” a co-production with China, which bows July 14.

“The Day After Tomorrow” is slated to debut May 28 and “Troy” is tentatively set for June 12.

Thereafter no U.S. film will be released until “Spider-Man 2” unspools Aug. 5. According to Chinese media reports, “Shrek 2” will open Aug. 12. No date has yet been set for the final “Harry Potter” adventure.

The delays in those U.S. films reaching China’s cinemas will play into the hands of China’s enterprising pirates, as counterfeit videos account for about 90% of the market.

“What a pity I cannot enjoy the better sound effects in the cinema, but it is certain I can buy pirate VCDs,” Tu Yaowen, a 17-year-old student, told the Shanghai Daily News.

Another month-long blackout is skedded for November, tied in with China’s National Day celebrations.

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