Life in the gray zone, aka Region 5

About a third of the pirate videos we get in China are fine, in the sense that they play properly and are in the advertised language. About a third are studio-promo copies, which were originally handed out "for your consideration" at Oscar time. When you watch these, you see "Property of Columbia Pictures" or some such label across the screen every few minutes, like this.

The other third of the videos are in Russian. (The really cheapo videos, shot by somebody sitting in a movie theater with a concealed camera, and chock-full of audience noise and people walking around, are pretty rare now.) I don't mean movies made in Russia or starring Russians. I mean the standard American or British studio film dubbed into Russian language. For instance, the lightweight Hollywood aerial-action movie about the WW I Lafayette Escadrille, Flyboys. Here's its opening menu

Russian? Why so many films in Russian, and not, say, Spanish or Thai? What does it say about a country that China looks to it as a source of pirated videos? I wonder this every time I play pirate-video-roulette and wonder whether this new video will be another unintended step in my familiarity with the Russian language.

Reader Ed Fisher helpfully provided the answer, which appears to check out:

Regarding your knockoff DVDs: The reason so many of them are dubbed into Russian is because the studios have started releasing movies for Region 5 (which includes Russia) much earlier than in the US, to combat piracy. Of course, it's had the opposite effect - Russian releases are immediately pirated and then either distributed as-is or merged with US audio from the theatrical release.

More on the Region 5 topic here.

Next on the trail of gray-zone inquiry: Who, exactly, in China controls the business that makes these billions of DVDs, and how are they so thoroughly protected against enforcement? Like most people here, I have my suppositions; and like most people here, I prudently keep them to myself.