Hollywood talks a lot about artistic freedom, but the prospect of reaching the vast market that is China trumps concerns like that. To get past the still-Communist censors, movie-makers make all kinds of changes.
Even the nerdiest comic-book fan would be surprised to learn what cutting-edge technology secretly fuels “Iron Man’s” action-packed heroics: a milk-grain drink called Gu Li Duo from China’s Inner Mongolia.
That’s according to the Chinese version of the new blockbuster, which was released here complete with other surprising (read: odd and, at times outright nonsensical) footage inserted by producers to win the favor of Chinese officials.
If aesthetically jarring, the gambit has paid off handsomely. “Iron Man 3” raked in more than $64 million in its first five days and broke Chinese records with its May 1 opening-day haul of $21 million.
It’s a sign of how eager Hollywood has become to court China’s Communist Party leaders, who maintain an iron fist over the country’s booming movie market.
This is how an invading swarm of Chinese soldiers in last year’s “Red Dawn” suddenly became North Koreans. And how Bruce Willis’s character mysteriously came to spend much more time in Shanghai than Paris in last year’s “Looper.” And why the outbreak sparking the zombie apocalypse in Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” this summer has been rewritten to originate from Moscow instead of China.
U.S. producers often spin such tweaks as an attempt to appeal to Chinese viewers. But experts say their more crucial target is the Chinese government’s 37-member censorship board, which each year approves just 34 foreign films for Chinese screens and reviews all their content. With China becoming the world’s second-largest box office market last year, failing to make that list can mean the loss of tens of millions of dollars.