The 10th film from Quentin Tarantino will not be the first to have a proper release in China as planned.
Multiple sources in Beijing told THR that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s planned local release of Oct. 25 has been indefinitely put on hold. No official explanation for the cancellation has been offered by Beijing, but rumors align with the controversy that surrounded the depiction of Bruce Lee in the film.
Friends and family of Lee, along with general moviegoers, have criticized Tarantino for a racist and unfaithful rendering of the star. Lee, played by Mike Moh, is the only character of Chinese descent in the film, making the stereotypes even more glaring. It’s been said that Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, made a direct appeal to China’s National Film Administration, asking for it to demand changes to her father’s portrayal.
The Bejing-based Bona Film Group is serving as the film’s Chinese financier, and is reportedly “frantically” working with Tarantino on a new cut of the film so that it can be re-approved ahead of its Oct. 25 release date. Bona took a sizable equity stake in the film to earn company participation in the film’s worldwide box office, as well as distribution rights in China. The company’s CEO Yu Dong and COO Jeffrey Chan are credited as executive producers of the film. Neither Bona’s office nor Sony’s China office have offered comments on the situation, per THR.
Tarantino’s been through such a scramble before: His only other film that neared theatrical debut in China was Django Unchained back in 2012. The film initially received permission to screen but was pulled from theaters during opening night. No explanation was given for the ax then, either, but THR sources said a senior Communist Party official took issue with the graphic violence, which is as given in a Tarantino film as having his name on it. Django was cut heavily and re-released a month later, but by then a pirated copy was loose and Django ended up earning a measly $2.6 million at the box office.
Censoring a film over violence versus offensive content fuel very different conversations. The Once controversy plays into a history and current pattern of China censoring film input by other countries and even its own output, but if the film has to be edited for racist material, it begs the question how the scene got constructed in the first place. China’s large market was projected to push Once Upon A Time in Hollywood over the $400-million mark, but if another Django situation occurs or the movie doesn’t screen at all, it will likely stay around its current massive total of $366 million, meaning Tarantino and his tropes will be just fine.