The famous martial arts film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is getting a sequel, to be released next year, but not before the Chinese regime puts it through the censorship bureau to “water down” its politically sensitive themes of sectarian uprising and dynastic change.
Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported on Oct. 12 that the Chinese regime’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) had passed censorship instructions to the company responsible for co-producing “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Legend.”
“The Green Legend” is to be based loosely on the work of martial arts novelist Wang Dulu, which includes depictions of the White Lotus Society, a Buddhist sect said to have inspired a 19th-century rebellion against imperial rule by the Qing Dynasty.
Li Wei’ao, a reporter for the Southern Weekly, posted the first page of a document containing the SAPPRFT’s directives to Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform.
In the document, the SAPPRFT orders the China Film Co-Production Corporation to replace the name of the White Lotus Society with a fictive martial arts faction and “advises” the firm to “downplay ‘Oppose the Qing, Restore the Ming’ content.”
This refers to the rebels’ aim of restoring the Ming Dynasty, which was ruled by ethnic Han Chinese, to power by overthrowing the Manchu court that had conquered China and established the Qing in 1644.
While rebellions against the Qing such as the one attributed to the White Lotus sect were often inspired by religious or nationalistic groups, the unrest that the Manchu Dynasty faced in its final century of rule stemmed from economic downturn, failure to keep up with the pace of development in the rest of the world, and corruption in the imperial bureaucracy.
This last point was not lost upon Chinese netizens posting their reactions to the censorship order. One user posted a satirical dialogue mocking the Chinese Communist Party’s selective and contradictory treatment of history:
“Student: Why was the Qing Dynasty overthrown?
Teacher: Because it was corrupt.
Student: Why was the Nationalist Party overthrown by the Communist Party?
Teacher: Also because it was corrupt.
Student: So when the regime is too corrupt to manage the country, it should be overthrown, correct?
Teacher: Right. History shows us that those who win the hearts of the people rule the world.
Student: Then, let’s talk about today’s corruption.
Teacher: Get out of here!”
Another netizen, “Darth Panda,” drawing parallels between the communist regime and the Qing Dynasty, wrote: “Once I believed the current regime came from the Chinese Soviet Republic. Now I think I was too naive, it actually originates from the Great Qing.”
“The SAPPRFT eunuch has been considerate,” a user poking fun at the historical court official rank wrote. “He is truly worried for the Great Qing[‘s image]!”
Others wondered why censors singled out the White Lotus sect considering the existing praise for it in state-produced textbooks as an anti-establishment peasant rebellion. “It’s bad that you’ve turned it into a cult,” a netizen wrote.
Besides demanding changes to politically sensitive content, the SAPPRFT instructions also told the film producers to “control the amount of gore and violence.”
And they showed themselves to the sticklers for textual accuracy, rectifying an erroneous quotation from the “Art of War,” an ancient text that teaches strategic principles. “‘A superior army breaks its enemy without fighting,’ should be corrected to ‘The army which breaks its enemy without fighting is the superior one,'” the document said.
Released in 2000, the original “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” was directed by Ang Lee, Taiwanese-born American film director. The sequel project was launched in 2013.
The sequel is a joint investment of the China Film Co. Ltd., Beijing Pegasus Media, The Weinstein Company LLC, and Bliss Media. Filming began in New Zealand in June 2014 by director Yuen Woo-ping. “The Green Legend,” which stars Chinese kung fu stars Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh, is to be released on Feb. 8, 2016.
Jenny Li contributed to this report.