When the “Top Gun: Maverick” trailer was released, it took the internet by storm with its exciting shots of legendary Navy fighters doing incredible things and legendary actors looking a bit older than any of us would have liked. Responses were largely positive at first… that is, until some people began noticing changes made to Maverick’s old jacket. Namely, that both Taiwanese and Japanese patches had been removed.
For those of us who have been following China’s influence over American cinema, it didn’t take long to figure out why these patches had been removed. It isn’t simply about winning over Chinese audiences; it’s about winning over the Chinese government. See, unlike here in the United States where our movie rating system may be corrupt, but it isn’t legally mandatory, Chinese censors decide which movies are suitable for release in Chinese markets… and as big-budget action flicks of recent years have proven, Chinese markets are too lucrative for studios to pass up.
As a result, studios have taken to playing ball with China’s censors just to ensure Dwayne Johnson doesn’t have to rely on American theaters to pay for his next giant gorilla movie, and if you think removing patches from Maverick’s jacket is as bad as it gets, you’re in for a rude awakening.
The Ancient One wasn’t always a white lady.
(Marvel/Walt Disney Studios)
Marvel’s Doctor Strange white-washed “The Ancient One” to appease China
The Marvel Cinematic Universe may be among the most lucrative film franchises in history, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to Chinese pressure. This presented a serious problem in pre-production for “Doctor Strange,” as the titular character’s storyline heavily involved a comic book character known as “the Ancient One” — historically depicted as a Tibetan monk.
Chinese censors likely wouldn’t have allowed the release of a movie that so prominently featured a character from Tibet (a nation China doesn’t recognize as independent), so they instead chose to cast the decidedly white Tilda Swinton and take a media beating for “white-washing” the role instead.
The studio swapped China out for North Korea after the film was already finished.
The “Red Dawn” remake changed villains after the film was already wrapped
The 2012 remake of “Red Dawn” was, for most of us, a real disappointment. The beloved original depicted desperate teenagers fighting an enemy invasion in a very personal way — forgoing flag-waving patriotism for an understated kind many service members can truly appreciate: a quiet but steady resolve to protect one’s home. The remake lacked that insight… as well as a believable villain. The idea that North Korea could render American defenses useless and capture a large portion of the U.S. mainland seems laughable… but then, it was never supposed to be the North Koreans in the first place. The entire movie was filmed using China as the invaders.
After Chinese media voiced concerns about their nation’s depiction in the film, the studio panicked and hired not one, but five special effects companies to remove any sign that the invading force was Chinese, replacing all flags with North Korean ones.
You can’t stop time (or China’s influence on Hollywood)
Looper changed locations and its cast to replace Paris with Shanghai
As if it isn’t weird enough to see Joseph Gordon Levitt walking around with Bruce Willis’ nose, the 2012 sci-fi action flick “Looper” also saw significant changes in order to meet Chinese film regulations. After a deal had already been struck between the studio (Endgame Entertainment) and a Chinese studio called DMG, the Chinese government stepped in to mandate a number of changes to the story.
While the original story would have featured a future Paris heavily, Chinese censors mandated that at least a third of the film take place in China in order to maintain the production deal with DMG. Any scenes meant to take place in Paris were then rewritten to take place in Shanghai, with Willis’ on-screen wife changed to Chinese actress Summer Qing.
Rampage made 3 times as much on the international market than it did in the U.S.
Many new blockbusters aren’t even aimed at American audiences
It’s been said that America’s chief export has become culture, and that may well be true. There are few places on the planet where American movies and music can’t be found, but increasingly, being produced in America doesn’t necessarily mean the intended audience is American.
Movies like “Rampage,” “Skyscraper,” “Venom,” and “The Mummy” all have at least two things in common: they underperformed domestically, and they still went on to make a fortune. These movies (along with just about every entrant in the Transformers franchise) may be panned by critics and moviegoers alike, but Chinese audiences absolutely eat them up. If you’ve wondered how poorly written action movies without a plot keep being made — this is the reason.
Even movies that are widely considered good get the Chinese market treatment, with so much Chinese product placement throughout “Captain America: Civil War” that a more appropriate name may have been “Captain China: Check out these Vivo Phones.”