China unwraps ‘The Mummy’ ban

Authorities sought minor changes in sequel

After some 11th-hour suspense, China is ready to unwrap Universal’s “The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.”

“We now have a certificate giving us permission to release the film in China and outside,” said Bill Kong, producer and Universal’s distributor in Hong Kong and China.

Pic will bow in Asian territories including Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea on July 31 and in the U.S. on Aug. 1.

The Chinese date has not yet been finalized but is likely to be at the end of August.

“The exact date is a matter of my commercial judgment,” Kong said. “The best date might be right after the Olympic Games (Aug. 8-24). You can’t publicize or market a movie during the Games, as people’s attention will be elsewhere.”

Kong said he is planning a wide release with 1,200 prints, up to half of which may be digital.

Last week, China’s State Administration for Radio, Film & Television told Daily Variety that it was seeking unspecified changes before giving the pic a release permit for the mainland.

Kong said the changes demanded by Chinese authorities were so minor that they scarcely amounted to a cut. “Remember, China doesn’t have a rating system; films have to be passed so they are suitable for children,” he said.

Indeed, it was a coup that the film was approved as a Chinese co-production in the first place since themes involving ghosts are usually taboo in China. The co-prod status involved prolonged collaboration with the China Film Co-production Corp. from script stage and throughout production.

Lensing took in national treasures including the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall, and pic has a significant local cast headed by Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong and Anthony Wong. It was helmed by Rob Cohen and stars Brendan Fraser.

Making a movie as an official co-production delivers great financial advantages but also an elevated level of scrutiny.

As a co-production, a pic can circumvent the quota of 20 foreign films per year that enter the country on a revenue-sharing distribution basis and enjoy rental terms that are many times more generous than the 13% that most imports suffer. It can also access different marketing and promo channels.

Kong played down the threat of piracy in the month between the pic’s Stateside release and its China bow. “I don’t think there’ll be much piracy during the Games,” he said.

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