Today’s box office marketplace is all about the international take, especially from China. It’s why more movies are set in China and have stars that Chinese audiences like. But China also has stringent censorship laws, so where does that leave Hollywood, which wants to give filmmakers freedom to tell whatever stories they want, but still doesn’t want to hurt the bottom line?
This is the conflict facing Universal with Crimson Peak, a film that flopped stateside, but the studio was hoping could pull in international box office, similar to Guillermo del Toro’s previous film, Pacific Rim. However, as THR reports, China has a “no ghost rule” because “China’s official censorship guidelines prohibit films that ‘promote cults or superstition.’” Before you ridicule them, keep in mind that in the U.S. we stop teenagers from seeing movies if people say “Fuck” more than once.
Silly rules can create serious problems, and filmmakers have had to provide some cuts to outright narrative changes like the Chinese-made film The House That Never Dies, which (spoiler alert) “reveals that all of the foregoing ghostly encounters have simply been hallucinations, because the heroine was secretly dosed with LSD.”
Crimson Peak, a movie where the opening line of the film is “Ghosts are real,” would have to go even further. Heroine Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) may say “It’s not a ghost story, it’s a story with ghosts in it,” but the ghosts are there, and that’s a problem for Chinese censors and ultimately Universal.
Sony could run up against the same problem next year with their Ghostbusters reboot for obvious reasons. I’m not sure what kind of cuts will be made or if China will refuse to show Ghostbusters and Crimson Peak like they did with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Either way, it’s a reminder that China is a powerful player in the stories we’re seeing. That’s not to say that Hollywood will stop making movies about ghosts, but it’s far more appealing to them to make movies about things that will cater to the country rather than figure out how to get past a censorship board.