Government delays debut of 'Dragon Emperor'

China’s censors want certain changes in the cut of Universal’s “The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” before they give it the greelight for release in that country.

The State Administration for Radio, Film and Television told Daily Variety that the mainland release of the pic is pending. No further details were given.

The org’s statements are unusual given that part of the pic was filmed in China.

A spokesman for Universal said: “Universal does not anticipate any obstacles to clearing the film for China and looks forward to releasing “The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor” in the country where it was set and shot.”

No Chinese release date has been set for the the $145 million pic, which is one of the biggest co-productions on record.

Pic stars Brendan Fraser, Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li, one of the mainland’s biggest stars.

Bill Kong, whose Edko Film is Universal’s distributor in Hong Kong and China, acknowledged the issues.

“It is too early for me to comment on this until the situation becomes clearer,” he said.

Kong, who is Asia’s leading producer and has political and industry connections in China, had previously submitted script drafts to China Film Co-production Corp.

In order to hammer out the co-production between Universal and the Chinese authorities, the filmmakers heeded the CFCC’s suggestions and adapted the screenplay to make it less political and more focused on fantasy than real history.

The production spent three months shooting all over China, built a replica of the Great Wall and brought an army of terracotta warriors back to life to fight for their immortal emperor, played by Li. Usually themes involving ghosts are taboo in China, but one way around can be to feature these as fantasy elements or a dream.

Foreign filmmakers are making major efforts to break in to the increasingly valuable Chinese market, where growing chains of multiplexes and an expanding middle class are transforming the country into a potential source of B.O. riches for the biz.

However, China remains a politically challenging place for foreigners to work. Sensitivities are high in China about the success of Hollywood treatments of its cultural icons following the runaway success of “Kung Fu Panda” in China, where the toon has broken B.O. records for an animated feature.

There is a feeling that Chinese filmmakers should be making these kind of movies and bafflement at why Hollywood is so good at producing popular, culturally specific and artistically successful movies about Chinese history.

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