Speculation Looms Over the Fate of 'Despicable Me 2' in China

on August 14, 2013

DM-2.jpgBy Logan Krum

Despicable Me 2, the year's third highest-grossing film globally, was allegedly overlooked for a potentially lucrative Chinese release by government authorities. Film Business Asia, however, reports that an official ban is not in place. According to the publication, the film never reached the country's censorship evaluation process, meaning that Edko, China's translation correspondent, never opted for the movie to be translated in the first place.

Nevertheless, the reports claiming a Despicable Me 2 ban cited legitimate reasons that could have prevented the animated film from ever opening in China, as imposed by China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). Though it may not seem sensible that Despicable Me 2 could be banned from Chinese theaters while current blockbusters like Pacific Rim and Fast and Furious 6, both violent in content, are dominating the box office, it makes sense according to the SARFT. At the time the ban was thought to be legitimate, speculation indicated the it was due to the film having potential to financially overpower domestic animation at the box office. Normally this would be the typical situation in Chinese cinema, but as The Diplomat recently reported, the Chinese film industry appears to be undertaking a growing interest and investment in its own animation industry. Regardless of whatever the final decision is on Despicable Me 2, Edko has yet to option the film for translation.  

Despicable Me 2 joins a growing list of Hollywood blockbusters to have been passed over for a Chinese release. Earlier this year, the Chinese government pulled Oscar nominee Django Unchained from theaters literally a few minutes into its opening day. Initially retracted due to supposed technical issues (a possibility that was later proved impossible), the film was not released to cinemas again for about a month--in a brutal release window that was in close proximity to the openings of Iron Man 3 and Oblivion. The re-released version underwent thorough editing, removing multiple graphic scenes before SARFT allowed it to be screened.  

Despite Despicable's rejection, current events indicate SARFT may be relaxing its tolerance on films. During the week of August 6, western action films Pacific Rim and Fast & Furious 6 dominated the box office in China, grossing a combined $70 million plus in Rim's opening week and Furious' sophomore week. Both action flicks earned a PG-13 rating in America due to sequences containing intense violence. Despite this, both films are enjoying profitable releases in China.  

It may seem odd that these films would be allowed clearance while other massively popular films in similar genres are not. It would seem, based on the approval of one of the summer's most prominent western bombs After Earth and the rejection of Despicable, that SARFT is not concerned with the amount of violence or gore a film contains, but rather how ideas and other information concerning the film can impact the audience. Meanwhile, it appears that the amount of money a film can gross at the box office is not a prominent factor when opting them for translation. Action films typically excel at the Chinese box office (western bombs White House Down and After Earth each attracted large openings of more than $10 million in China this summer). Pacific Rim and Fast & Furious 6, similar in genre, joined their success. Though the four films each contain a large amount of violence and some gore, they were released in Chinese theaters despite overall poor performances in other countries (Furious 6's global success is the exception).  

Even if SARFT is relaxing its control on censorship, it may still be difficult for overseas animated films to be approved for translation for reasons similar to Despicable's rejection. Pixar's Monsters University has been the only foreign animated film to be released in China so far this summer. As of yet, no plans to translate Disney's Planes or DreamWorks' Turbo have been announced.     

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