Hollywood stays on China’s good side


Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES

China has become such an important market for U.S. entertainment companies that one studio has taken the extraordinary step of digitally altering a film to excise bad guys from the Communist nation lest the leadership in Beijing be offended.

When MGM decided a few years ago to remake “Red Dawn,” a 1984 Cold War drama about a bunch of American farm kids repelling a Soviet invasion, the studio needed new villains, since the U.S.S.R. had collapsed in 1991. The producers substituted Chinese aggressors for the Soviets and filmed the movie in Michigan in 2009.

But potential distributors are nervous about becoming associated with the finished film, concerned that doing so would harm their ability to do business with the rising Asian superpower, one of the fastest-growing and potentially most lucrative markets for American movies, not to mention other U.S. products.

As a result, the filmmakers now are digitally erasing Chinese flags and military symbols from “Red Dawn,” substituting dialogue and altering the film to depict much of the invading force as being from North Korea, an isolated country where American media companies have no dollars at stake.

The changes illustrate just how much sway China’s government has in the global-entertainment industry, even without uttering a word of official protest. Although it’s unclear if anyone in China has seen “Red Dawn,” a leaked version of the script last year resulted in critical editorials in the Global Times, a Communist party-controlled paper.

Hollywood has learned the hard way that besmirching China’s image onscreen can have long-running implications. In the late 1990s, Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures and MGM all faced a temporary halt in their business dealings in the country after releasing the movies “Kundun,” “Seven Years in Tibet” and “Red Corner,” respectively, which were critical of the Communist government.

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