BEIJING — Director Roland Emmerich says although Hollywood may be benefiting by adding Chinese elements to its films, it won’t be making wholesale changes to the way it tells stories on the screen just to cater to China’s massive audience.
“There will be cooperations, there will be all kinds of stuff, but will it affect the movie so much? I don’t think so, because China doesn’t also want to only see movies about China, they want to see movies about other things in the world,” said Emmerich, who was in China to promote his action film “White House Down.”
The nation of 1.3 billion people is now the world’s second-biggest movie market. But China limits the number of foreign films that play here, and its censors reject movies or edit them if they show China in a bad light or are too explicit.
Earlier this year, some Chinese moviegoers were left confused because of awkward cuts to the James Bond feature “Skyfall” that included unflattering references to the sex trade in the Chinese territory of Macau. Then “Cloud Atlas” was shown in Chinese cinemas minus 38 minutes that included gay and straight love scenes.
China is even getting American studios to sanction alternative versions of films specially tailored for Chinese audiences, such as “Iron Man 3.” The Chinese version features local heartthrob Fan Bingbing — absent from the version shown abroad — and lengthy clips of Chinese scenery.
“The China element is sometimes important, but it has to make sense for the story, you cannot kind of just prop a Chinese element in and think, ‘Oh, this movie will work great in China’ — you have to still come up with a story that makes sense,” Emmerich said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
The German director’s “2012” movie was a hit in China with a plot that was gold for patriotic Chinese audiences: As the Earth’s core overheats, world leaders build an ark in the mountains of central China to house people and animals that can repopulate the planet. Scenes from the nearly three-hour movie feature a U.S. military officer saying that only the Chinese could build an ark of such a scale so quickly. It was seen in China as a refreshing change for audiences after decades of unflattering portrayals of the communist nation in Hollywood movies.
Emmerich said he didn’t make “2012” specifically to appeal to Chinese.
“It was not to please China,” he said. “Perhaps the very first idea I had about ‘2012’ was this image that water comes over the Himalayas. For me that was something so strong that I thought the whole movie has to be based on that, and so China had to play a part in this.”
His latest action-packed film, “White House Down,” which opens in China on Monday, stars Jamie Foxx as president of the United States and Channing Tatum as a Capitol police officer who becomes his impromptu bodyguard.
The 57-year-old filmmaker said censors didn’t have a problem with the movie, which depicts “mainly an American crisis.”
China’s authoritarian government strictly controls print media, television, radio and the Internet. Movie censors have political sensitivities, but also need to judge whether movies are suitable for the whole family, as China has no age classification system.
China has become the second-biggest movie market behind the U.S., with sales of $2.7 billion last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
The government allows in only 34 foreign films per year for national distribution. At least 14 of them have to be made in 3-D or for the big-screen Imax format.