China's Great Firewall of Internet censorship has become household knowledge in recent years, but the extent to which the country controls all forms of media is less well known. It has, however, become a huge headache for Hollywood lately, as movie studios struggle to break in to the world's second largest film market. It's a struggle because every single film bound for Chinese theaters has to make it past China's all-powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) whose guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable is more or less subjective and entirely unpredictable. All the studios can do is hire consultants who are familiar with the ins and outs of censorship in China and hope for the best. But even after a script is approved and the film is shot and edited, SARFT can swoop in and block the film for any reason.
That's exactly what happened to director Rob Cohen, who explained the travails of working with China's censors to The New York Times in a story set to hit the paper's front page on Tuesday. One of Cohen's recent films is The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor -- we didn't realize they were still making The Mummy series either but whatever -- which was filmed in China in 2007 after the country's censorship bureau had approved the script. However, after watching the film, Cohen says that the censors landed on a problem that the filmmakers "didn't have any way of seeing, or any way of fixing." Cohen put it bluntly: "White Westerners were saving China." Although the film was approved, Cohen says its release was delayed until after it had been seen by everyone else in the world.