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China Auds’ Desire for ‘Django’ Has Censors Ready to Relent

Django Unchained” may yet get a release in China, as sources over the weekend indicated that a few further cuts could clear the way to the film’s launch.

Given the violence and moments of nudity in the Quentin Tarantino film, it was a little surprising that the film was OK’d in the first place. But sources said that the digital re-coloring of blood and a few other tweaks made the pic acceptable for an April 11 bow. When it was yanked, reps from Sony, which is releasing the Weinstein Co. film internationally, expressed hope that further tweaks would put it across the finish line.

The decision to ax “Django,” however temporarily, has been met with dismay even in the state-run media, and shows there are signs of growing public dissatisfaction with the government’s opaque censorship practices.

In a piece in the Global Times newspaper, under the heading “Django Unclothed does less harm to audiences than screeners’ whims,” Shi Chuan, vice president of Shanghai Film Assn., said: “I believe the unexpected cancellation will do far more damage to China’s image than the sight of Jamie Foxx’s bare bottom could do to a Chinese audience.”

Shi said that the explanation of “technical problems” was not enough to answer public questions. The departments involved should provide more detailed explanations, Shi said.

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He added: “Generally speaking, China’s censorship is too strict and overly rigid. Due to the development of the Internet, audiences have a far wider choice than before. The standards of film censorship should also advance with the times. Otherwise, they will become an obstacle to film industry’s development.”

The backstory of “Django” and China is arguably more interesting than the movie, but the details may never emerge. Non-Chinese films undergo careful scrutiny by Chinese censors, with only a small number of foreign films allowed to screen. Western film companies are fascinated by anything that goes on in China, since it is now the No. 2 country for box office, behind only the U.S. So details of all the plot twists might be instructive, but they are rarely disclosed after government decisions.

Hollywood often is confused by Chinese censors, since the country doesn’t have a ratings system — in other words, if a film is given the government OK, the presumption is that it is suitable for the entire family.

Reps of Sony in Los Angeles and China were unavailable for comment about a relaunch over the weekend.

“Django” was to open April 11 on about 6,000 screens in China, but it was yanked in the middle of the screenings. Filmgoers were told it was due to technical problems.

“We regret that ‘Django Unchained’ has been removed from theaters and are working with the Chinese authorities to determine whether the film can be rescheduled,” studio spokesman Steve Elzer told Variety at the time.

Sources said that last week’s release had been given the thumbs-up when the color of blood was toned down. “What we call bloodshed and violence is just a means of serving the purpose of the film, and these slight adjustments will not affect the basic quality of the film — such as tuning the blood to a darker color, or lowering the height of the splatter of blood,” Zhang Miao, director of Sony Pictures’ Chinese branch, reportedly told Southern Metropolis Daily last week.

News reports in China said that the film was pulled at the last minute due to other considerations, such as moments of nudity involving Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington.
The pic has grossed more than $400 million worldwide since it opened at Christmas.

“Django” was scheduled to be the first Tarantino film released in China, though his earlier films are available on DVD. In the past, the director had encouraged Chinese fans to view pirated copies of his films.

Rachel Abrams contributed to this report.

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