The recent U.S./China tensions have now found their way to Quentin Tarantino and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Bona Film Group, a Beijing-based production company and distributor (and an equity investor in the film), had plans to release the movie in China on October 25th. Those plans have come undone.
No official explanation has been given as yet, but it isn’t the first time Tarantino has had some misfortune with the country. 2013’s Django Unchained was removed from theaters not long after its release without specific reasons given. Though it soon emerged that Chinese authorities objected to the film’s violent and sexual content. Django was later re-cut and re-released in China.
As noted by The Hollywood Reporter, Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee, took issue with the less than flattering depiction of her father, appealing to China’s National Film Administration, in the hopes of seeing the film re-edited before its release. If you haven’t yet seen the film, [spoiler alert] Tarantino imagines the Jeet Kune Do master as a pompous blowhard while on the set of The Green Hornet. He then gets what’s coming to him, courtesy of Brad Pitt’s mythic stuntman character, Cliff Booth.
This is merely the latest in a round of controversies between the two countries. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters earlier this month, resulting in lost sponsorships and China canceling plans to broadcast a pair of preseason games. The Chinese government then insisted NBA commissioner Adam Silver fire Morey. Following this, the league’s biggest superstar, LeBron James, took the side of the Chinese, suggesting Morey was probably ill-informed about the protests in Hong Kong. The NBA is China’s most popular sports league, having become among the its most valuable foreign markets.
South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone weighed in as well. On the show. The recent episode, “Let Them Eat Goo,” sees a vegan protester exercising his free speech in regard to a new lunch menu, and Cartman bickering with him. Cartman tells the student, “Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you are not thinking about others and only thinking about yourself!” This is, verbatim, what James told reporters when asked about Morey. It comes on the heels of Parker and Stone’s prior episode “Band in China,” in which they criticized Hollywood’s apparent fear of offending the Chinese government. South Park episodes and clips have since been almost entirely wiped from China’s internet.
Whether or not China comes around again to releasing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could have an impact on the film industry’s relations with the country—one it has relied on heavily to consume its product. Perhaps too heavily, at least in the eyes of Parker and Stone.