Inside Move: Baffling bootlegs blur ‘Matrix,’ ‘Mnemonic’

Pirates mix real, fake for bait-and-switch hits

Call it “The Matrix: Rebootlegged.”

Shanghai auds, used to buying pirated DVDs of U.S. blockbusters sometimes weeks ahead of their U.S. release, have turned a certain Keanu Reeves sci-fi thriller into a bestselling bootleg.

“The Matrix: Reloaded”? Guess again. It’s “Johnny Mnemonic.”

Looking for all the world like a bootleg copy of “Matrix: Reloaded,” the disc comes complete with stylish cover art and a cast list that includes Reeves and Laurence Fishburne.

The only giveaway that it’s a pirate copy — apart from that fact that the film has yet to be released in the U.S., let alone in China — is the third-billed thesp, “Keli Anmos” — better known to Western auds as Carrie-Anne Moss.

But local buyers are quite happy to ignore this bad transliteration of her Chinese name and cough up 9 yuan (just over $1) for the disc. Many won’t grasp that the film they watch, a poor-quality Chinese-dubbed “Johnny Mnemonic,” isn’t the film they thought they were buying.

Piracy of DVD (and its fading cousin, VCD) is rampant on the Chinese mainland. Most streets in Beijing and Shanghai feature at least one store selling a mix of “real” and “fake” films and music.

Release dates are crucial. Pirate DVD manufacturers, keen to cash in on the buzz surrounding an upcoming release, often package an old film to look like the new one.

Previous bait-and-switch hits include “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which hit Shanghai streets a full three months before the U.S. release date and turned out to be a low budget ’80s fantasy film.

And Roman Polanski may have been surprised to learn that he won seven Oscars for “The Pianist” according to its bootleg DVD jacket, including best pic and screenplay. The “results” were printed several days before the Oscars ceremony.

According to a local vendor: “We recognize a good film when we see it. And we were right to predict that it would get best director and best actor, weren’t we?”

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