EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood studios have become accustomed to deleting scenes for Chinese censors. But it’s not often that footage is explicitly added for the Asian nation.
In a rare switch, two versions of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt time-travel film “Looper” will be released—with the longer, more Shanghai-centric edition coming out in Chinese theaters.
Directed by the high-concept auteur Rian Johnson (“Brick”), “Looper” follows a hit man (Gordon-Levitt) who is charged with offing targets sent from the future but finds himself in a quandary after he is ordered to kill his future self (Bruce Willis).
The film, due out stateside from Sony Pictures on Sept. 28, had already undergone a transformation to appeal to Chinese financiers. Originally set partly in Paris, the script’s international location was changed to Shanghai after financier Endgame Entertainment brought on Chinese entity DMG to back the film.
But now some of the scenes shot as part of the China deal won’t make the film's Western release. According to two people involved with the production who were not authorized to talk about it publicly, those moments ended up on the cutting-room floor in the English-language version. But the footage, which showcases Shanghai streets and landmarks, is being added back into the Chinese version at the request of financiers from the country.
The scenes, mainly exposition about how Gordon-Levitt’s character took a downward spiral, did not test well with American audiences, who felt it upset the film's pacing. “But the Chinese didn’t care about pacing, and they wanted the [China-set] scenes in, so we said OK,” said one of the two people involved with the film. (Some other Chinese scenes do wind up in the Western version.)
A representative for Endgame and a Sony spokesman declined to comment.
China has become an increasing factor for Hollywood studios and producers, who find that they can run into problems when they feature Chinese characters or locations. (Sony learned this the hard way when censors recently had it remove scenes that portrayed Chinese American restaurant workers as aliens in "Men In Black 3.")
In this case, Endgame has come up with what could prove an unorthodox solution: American and European audiences will see the version that filmmakers want them to see, while Chinese interests will--they hope--also be appeased
Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT