Sorry, CRIMSON PEAK: China Doesn’t Want Any Ghost Movies

Will this impact DOCTOR STRANGE?

As someone who really loved Crimson Peak I have been bummed to see how it has been received in the US, partially because distributor Universal decided to sell the movie as a horror film. While it has horror elements any audience going to Crimson Peak looking for traditional scares would be left wanting, and so many audiences - expecting a standard haunted house film - have walked out of Crimson Peak disappointed. Even film critics, who are supposed to be smarter than your average bear, have been complaining that the film just isn't scary. Try not to review the marketing next time, guys. Or at least listen to the lead character of the movie when she baldly states at the start "This isn't a ghost story, it's a story with ghosts in it." 

Those ghosts, while not scary enough for US audiences, are too much for Chinese censors. It turns out that the ruling Communist Party does not allow films that promote cults or superstitions, and they consider ghost stories to be superstitious. This means that Crimson Peak probably ain't gonna play China. 

That's a huge problem. China is the second biggest movie market in the world. Guillermo del Toro is very popular there (Pacific Rim did well enough there that Legendary came quite close to greenlighting the sequel just based on those numbers) and The Hollywood Reporter says that Chinese social media chatter indicates the film could do well... if it ever gets released. But with that no ghosts rule I can't imagine how it will ever happen. 

The Chinese are very serious about this. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was banned in China because of ghost content. Local Chinese films use ridiculous plot contrivances - the heroes were drugged! The heroes were crazy all along! - to play in the ghost story sandbox without actually running afoul of the ghost ban. Other American films have trimmed scenes in order to play in China, but there's just no way that Crimson Peak can do that. The ghosts are far too integral to the story. Hell, the first words of the movie are "Ghosts are real."

The Chinese market will very soon eclipse the domestic market when it comes to financial importance. How is this going to impact the movies that are made in America? I think we've already been seeing the impact of the growing importance of foreign markets for some time - movies get shinier and dumber as they need to be easily translated across many differing cultures - but the growth in China could be a major roadblock to quality films. As Ant-Man opens as the biggest Marvel movie in Chinese history I wonder how the 'no superstition' rule will impact Doctor Strange, a movie about a sorceror. I already was curious how China's ugly history with Tibet would inform Strange's origin story, but now I'm wondering if this rule doesn't mean we'll be subjected to a speech about how Strange's magic is actually quantum field manipulation or some other bullshit. 

I have to admit I'm worried about a cultural future where our movies are intended largely for foreign audiences. I'm of an America that practiced cultural domination, and I liked it. I liked that we exported our movies and TV and music from a position of dominance. I don't like the idea of our creators chasing the whims and attentions of other cultures, trying to make their movies bland enough to transcend cultural (and censorial) boundaries to make more money in bigger markets. There are a lot of reasons why we're not going to see another movie like Crimson Peak for some time, but Chinese censorship is certainly the scariest.