China Censors ‘Fight Club’ With New Ending, but Some Execs View It as Bizarre ‘Win-Win’

Fight Club
Everett Collection

David Fincher’s classic “Fight Club” has been given a different ending in China, where it’s now available on Tencent Video. The story of exactly how the new version came about is unsurprisingly murky, but it does provide something of a win-win situation for all parties.

In the 1999 original, Edward Norton’s narrator character kills off his alter ego Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) before watching buildings burst into flames in apparent confirmation that his plan to destroy modern civilization is being executed.

The version now playing on China’s largest video streamer, which is home to the country’s biggest selection of imported films, stops before the buildings explode. The final action is instead replaced with an English-language title card explaining that the anarchic plot was foiled by the authorities.

“The police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to lunatic asylum [sic] receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012,” the card reads.

China’s censors — ever vigilant for depictions that might disturb social order or impart criminal methods — normally cut or provide notes where edits need to be made before a film can be submitted successfully for certification.

Sometimes these cuts have significantly deformed the version shown to Chinese audiences in cinemas or on TV. For example, Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” had some three minutes cut, eliminating all gay references from the picture. Meanwhile, “Alien: Covenant” lost some six minutes for violence and a gay kiss between androids.

In other instances, the producer or distributor is understood to have offered the cuts in order to head off obvious problems. In the case of “Fight Club,” multiple sources in China tell Variety that this is probably the most likely scenario.

“For anyone familiar with how business is done between copyright owner and companies who buy the distribution rights for a certain region, it’s clear that the company who brought the distribution rights for the China market sold this version to Tencent Video,” one source close to the streamer told Variety.

“This example is kind of genius. They have added something that was not in the original film, and they’ve done so with lettering in the original font so that it fits in believably. It has to have been done in post-production,” said one executive deeply involved in the import of foreign films into China.

Without eagle-eyed fans who had seen the original film abroad or via piracy, the ruse may have worked.

The original 1999 film came out at a time when Pitt’s movies were banned in China due to the star’s role in 1997 drama “Seven Years in Tibet,” in which his character befriends the Dalai Lama shortly after China’s invasion of Tibet. China’s block on Pitt’s films only ended in 2016 with the release of the partly Chinese-financed “Allied.”

When contacted by Variety, neither Tencent Video or Disney (which now owns 20th Century Fox, the original distributor of “Fight Club”) offered any comment.

China operates a strict censorship system that covers all film and TV productions, as well as film imports. Getting an imported movie onto a major streaming platform in China requires several layers of approval, and in the current era, with bilateral political tensions between China and the U.S. spilling over into the entertainment industry, few American films are getting approvals. Last year, all Marvel movies failed to obtain release slots in China.

“It is not unusual for products to be modified in order to be compliant with national laws and regulations. This is true with many countries around the world,” said the import executive. “It is better to have 99.9% of the film shown legally to tens of millions of people than to not have it shown at all. I think it’s a win-win situation.”