China’s giant Tencent Video has begun playing David Fincher’s classic “Fight Club” with its original dystopian ending now intact. The move to restore the final scenes comes barely two weeks after it emerged that the ending of the film as it played on Chinese streaming had been changed so that law and order prevail.
There has been no explanation of the reversal, nor who was responsible for the previous amendment to the 1999 film.
Online pressure from fans and a chorus of international media commentary highlighting the Chinese government’s penchant for micro-management, may have secured a rare policy reversal.
In Fincher’s original film Edward Norton’s narrator character kills off his alter ego Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) before watching buildings burst into flame in apparent confirmation that his plan to destroy modern civilization is being executed.
The version that began playing on China’s largest video streamer stopped before the buildings explode. The final action was instead replaced with an English- and Chinese-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 read.
The question of who changed the film and why remains unclear. The changes were not simply an omission. They were an addition that required some post-production work and may have been made by the film’s licensor.
Tencent made no comment at the time nor since. Sources at Disney, the current owner of the 20th Century Fox studio distributor behind the 1999 film, denied being the film’s vendor, and told Variety that rights had reverted to the production companies.
Chinese authorities control the media and entertainment industries through multiple state organizations, some of which also have regional say. That can leave policy deliberately blurry.
Previous guidelines for film have banned depiction of ghosts, organized crime, pornography, sexual violence, time travel and non-approved interpretations of Chinese history. Recently, however, greater emphasis throughout Chinese public life is being placed on conformity with Chinese socialist ideals and national security concerns. That has led to instructions for cissy idols and effeminate men to be banished from the airwaves and to football players being told to remove their tattoos.
China is not alone in applying censorship, says Chuck Palahniuk, author of the book underlying the Fincher film. “What I find really interesting is that my books are heavily banned throughout the U.S. [..] The Texas prison system refuses to carry my books in their libraries. A lot of public schools and most private schools refuse to carry my books. But it’s only an issue once China changes the end of a movie?,” he said in an interview with TMZ.
“The irony is that the way the Chinese have changed it is they’ve aligned the ending almost exactly with the ending of the book, as opposed to Fincher’s ending, which was the more spectacular visual ending,” Palahniuk said. “So in a way, the Chinese brought the movie back to the book a little bit.”