A Vanishing Pirate

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Chinese media are reporting the country’s film board has cut 10-20 minutes from the new Pirates of the Caribbean film. Since the movie runs close to three hours and is amazingly tedious despite all the swordplay and explosions, it’s tempting to say the censors have done the country a favor. (As a disappointed fan I have to concur with TIME’s review.)

But the cuts, according to the reports, vastly reduced the screen time for one of China’s biggest actors, Hong Kong star Chow Yun-fat. Why take out a Chinese star for a Chinese showing? The film board has offered explanations ranging from the level of violence in the scenes to “no comment.” As the movie is mostly one interminable fight scene, the violence explanation rings hollow. Without a fuller account from the censors it’s hard to see the reasoning.

It is worth noting though that Chow described his role in the film as “the Western audience’s stereotype of the Chinese bad guy from the 17th century: long beard, long fingernails.” So, whether by accident or design, China’s cinemagoers have been saved from having to see too much of an ugly caricature, the “yellow peril” villain. That might seem like a good thing, but by cutting it the censors will inevitably give even more attention to Chow’s role. The missing scenes have already become a focus of the press coverage ahead of Tuesday’s opening. Now, instead of the character being yet another reason not to see a mediocre movie, it gives mainland film fans a reason to find an uncensored bootleg to catch what they’re missing.