The Olympics will be upon us soon, and to mark the occasion, Chariots of Fire — the Oscar-winning 1981 film about two athletes, one Jewish and one Christian, who represented Great Britain at the 1924 Olympics in Paris — is coming back to theatres for one night only. An unofficial “sequel” has also started playing in China.
The “sequel” in question is The Last Race, a Hong Kong-Chinese film that focuses on the last years of Eric Liddell, the Christian athlete from the earlier film.
Liddell was born in China and worked as a missionary there after he won his gold medal. He eventually died in a Japanese internment camp near the end of World War II, and his bravery during his imprisonment made him a hero to the Chinese.
The New York Times reports that The Last Race, which stars Joseph Fiennes, opened in more than 50 cities last Friday — and it notes that the film’s primary director, a Christian named Stephen Shin, had to treat Liddell’s faith very carefully:
Another challenge for the filmmakers was determining how to depict Mr. Liddell’s strong faith without alarming the censors.
“You have to be very careful with how you portray religion,” Mr. Shin said. “The movie can’t be a medium through which to promote certain religious beliefs.”
In the end, he said, the script was approved with only a few changes, and crosses and churches are shown throughout, even as the Chinese authorities are cracking down on the public display of crosses.
The Times also notes that changes had to be made regarding the film’s depiction of the Japanese soldiers, lest they be put on “equal” footing with their Chinese prisoners:
Yet despite the story’s emphasis on heroism and self-sacrifice, Mr. Shin acknowledged that China’s film censors had to be placated before they would allow the production to proceed. Depictions of Japanese soldiers during World War II, for example, are still regarded warily by China’s Communist Party.
In the original script, according to the director, a nurse in a hospital said to the invading Japanese soldiers: “This is a hospital. Everyone in this hospital is equal.”
“But the film censors thought audiences would misunderstand,” he said, “because in the eyes of the Chinese, the Japanese were not equals, they were invaders. So I changed it to have her say: ‘This is a hospital. We are here to save people and you are here to kill people, so I would ask you to please leave.’ ”
The Last Race does not currently have a North American release date.
Meanwhile, the original Chariots of Fire is returning to theatres in about a dozen U.S. cities for one night only on August 1. Click here for more information.