Fight Club receives a new ending
Amy Colwell discusses the ramifications of Tencent Video’s censorship of David Fincher’s modern classic Fight Club.
The iconic 1999 David Fincher film, Fight Club, has recently been added to the Chinese streaming platform Tencent Video – but with a notably different, censor-friendly ending.
Fight Club’s original plot drew to a close with Edward Norton’s ‘Narrator’ killing his imaginary alter-ego Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), before watching from afar as bombs he’s planted level a number of high-rises, destroying all bank and credit records to reset the economy; the start of the societal collapse and fall of consumerism that Durden had been planning for in his ‘Project Mayhem’.
In the altered version, the police are instead lauded as the heroes of the movie, as a black screen is shown displaying the message “Through the clue provided by Tyler, the police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to a lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012”.
These censorship laws forbid images of nudity, violence and other intense or challenging material
The change was quickly noticed by viewers and immediately criticised, with one commentator tweeting “The first rule of Fight Club in China? Don’t mention the original ending. The second rule of Fight Club in China? Change it so the police win” and Human Rights Watch publicly condemning the change as “dystopian”.
Another commentator, writing on the platform Weibo, observed “When people tell you that the hero of Shawshank ended up in prison again, there’s no explosion in Fight Club, and Nicholas Cage was arrested, you’ll question if your memory exists for real”, criticising the manipulative and infantilising nature of censorship. Furthermore, Chuck Palahniuk, author of the 1996 novel upon which the film was based, sarcastically tweeted “This is SUPER wonderful! Everyone gets a happy ending in China!”
China’s censorship rules are extremely restrictive, with the board usually responsible for enforcing them only approving a small number of foreign films for release each year and often with major cuts. These censorship laws forbid images of nudity, violence and other intense or challenging material, as demonstrated in the cuts to Game of Thrones (2011-2019) and The Shape of Water (2017).
In 2019, the Chinese release of hit film Bohemian Rhapsody was edited to cut out references to Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality and AIDS diagnosis, erasing scenes that were key to understanding and honouring the iconic singer’s identity and life. Further cuts included scenes of two men kissing as well as usages of the word “gay”. Furthermore, in September 2021, China’s broadcasting regulator, the NRTA, published that they would now be filtering actors by their political and moral conduct, as well as promoting more ‘masculine’ images of men and restricting images of male celebrities wearing makeup, tattoos, long hair or piercings.
Political issues and how they impact upon the human experience have always been an essential vehicle of artistic expression
Professor Ong of the University of Toronto described these rules as “evidence of the [Chinese Communist] Party’s ever-encroaching role into the lives of ordinary people”, indicating the link between these restrictions and a wider context of the enforced and unstoppable Chinese governmental interference into the lives of its citizens.
Political issues and how they impact upon the human experience have always been an essential vehicle of artistic expression; the neutering of this indicates a dangerous and unstable future for the creative arts in China. Culture is most powerful in how it acts as a reflection of the real world and in its resonance with the public. If the Chinese government continues to curtail this due to its own anxieties about the stability of its regime and ideology, they are robbing their citizens of the privilege of free-thinking, human connection, personal responsibility and moral agency.
When it comes down to it, Fight Club’s censorship stands as testament to David Freedberg’s statement that “In the end, those who seek to censor and destroy art testify to its power, whether the work is seen as a symbol of something hated or disliked, or simply as a vessel of form”. Film, and the wider world of culture and artistic creation as a whole, faces a serious challenge with the censorship provoked by the PRC’s anxieties about the durability of its ideology and there will undoubtedly be more controversies in the same vein to come.