At one time, Hong Kong and mainland China had two distinct cinemas.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong’s native cinema was rightly celebrated as a freewheeling, vibrant industry that redefined some of the norms of global popular cinema. Today, Hong Kong still produces some very commendable films, but many people lament that the “Golden Age” is gone forever.
People often ask me why Hong Kong produces so few Category III movies these days. There are a number of reasons. Unlike 25 years ago, people now have all the (real) sex and violence they could ever want in the palm of their hand (or their other hand).
But I think another important reason is that Category III films are, almost without exception, forbidden in mainland cinemas without significant trimming. The only exception I am aware of is quite recent; Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge was purportedly left untouched, since the vast majority of the onscreen violence is perpetrated on Japanese soldiers. This, apparently, is acceptable viewing for all ages in China.
Sex and violence are not the only things prohibited in China film. Vampires, ghosts, gambling, prostitutes, bad cops, good criminals, and corrupt government officials are also not allowed. So, there’s a brisk 90 percent of classic Hong Kong cinema storylines off the table.
Today, filmmakers are still free to produce any film they like, including those about “prohibited” subjects. However, they do so knowing that the film cannot and will not play in China.
This is not, strictly speaking, censorship; it’s financial incentive. If you want to reach 1.6 billion people, you might want to avoid sensitive topics. If you don’t avoid them, at the very least you’ll need an epilogue where someone turns out to be in a coma and was hallucinating all those patently unreal ghosts, or show an author at a book reading closing a novel which was the basis for this obviously fictitious story about the supernatural and saying the same thing out loud, just in case.
A recent story featured in CGTN3, “The unique identity of Hong Kong films” [sic] expends a large amount of its attention on Infernal Affairs, the classic 2002 Andrew Lau film starring Andy Lau and (Little) Tony Leung. At no point in the article is the dual ending of Infernal Affairs mentioned. In the Hong Kong version, the bad guy gets away with it. In the mainland ending, he is caught. The mainland ending was included on the DVD as an extra.
By 2008, the dual endings had changed. Anyone who wanted to see the original, “Hong Kong” ending of Lady Cop Papa Crook had to buy the DVD, because only the mainland version played in local cinemas. Among film buffs, there is a fond recollection of the “Malaysian epilogues” Andrew Lau put on the Young & Dangerous movies to gain access to that market: Ekin Cheng would be shown sneaking into a police station, because in reality he was an undercover cop! Fast forward 20 years, and now that’s everyone’s ending.
See also: Sean’s “The Silver Spleen” channel
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