It wasn't Chi's first brush with Chinese censors. In "Cicada's Summer," a fully Chinese-funded movie Chi directed and wrote, two scenes had to be removed after shooting was finished, one in which a schoolgirl has an abortion, the other where schoolchildren post photos on a social media site during class. Both were deemed detrimental to the image of the country's education system.
Sometimes, the governmental concerns might seem almost trivial.
Just before shooting commenced on 2011's "The Dragon Pearl," Australian writer-director Mario Andreacchio was forced to tear up his script, largely because of how he was depicting dragons.
The family film, the first official treaty Australia-China co-production, revolves around two teenagers' discovery of a live dragon in China. Andreacchio had envisioned a Western-style dragon: a fearsome, fire-breathing creature with connotations of evil. In China, however, dragons traditionally symbolize prosperity and power.
"We had to rewrite the screenplay — we were six weeks out from shooting, and I had to go back to treatment stage, which is pretty scary for any producer," Andreacchio said. "The only way we could continue was to unstitch the story and stitch it up again with changes so we could get filming approval." The benevolent Chinese dragon won, and the film turned into a modest Chinese hit.
Producer Pietro Ventani, who was a consultant on 2008's Chinese-American co-production "The Forbidden Kingdom" with Jet Li and Jackie Chan and is developing with director Rob Minkoff the proposed co-production adventure tale "Chinese Odyssey," said the screenwriting education is not a one-way street.
If Chinese filmmakers want their films to travel beyond the country's borders, Ventani said, they also must reexamine narrative rules, and understand why movies such as "Avatar," which grossed more than $182 million in China, do so well in Chinese multiplexes. In many Chinese films, Ventani said, "the accomplishment is given as much emphasis as the individual, which can be a problem because we are drawn to people stories." But Chinese society is changing rapidly, Ventani said, and its homegrown movies will soon follow, embracing more Western structures. "The Chinese audience is ready to embrace those kind of stories."
Correspondent Sebag-Montefiore reported from China, staff writer Horn from Los Angeles.