China pulled the action movie Monster Hunter from its cinemas on Saturday following a backlash over a scene in the film in which a character makes a pun on the word “Chinese” that the Communist regime claimed was insulting.
Japan’s Toho Studios and China’s Tencent Pictures produced the film along with Germany’s Constantin Films and director Paul W.S. Anderson’s Impact Pictures. Monster Hunter, based on a video game of the same name published by Japanese games developer Capcom, was released in Chinese theaters on Friday. By Saturday, video clips of the offending pun began circulating on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, which the Communist Party tightly controls.
The ten-second scene depicts a white soldier asking an Asian soldier, played by the Chinese-American rapper and actor MC Jin, “What knees are these?” Jin’s character answers with “Chi-knees.”
“The film’s Chinese subtitles “changed the hard-to-translate pun to ‘there is gold underneath my knees’ – a reference to a [Chinese] proverb that means men do not kneel or submit easily,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Sunday.
Chinese “influencers” and alleged Weibo “netizens” – the people whose opinions the regime allows to remain published on the platform – viewed the remarkably different translation as evidence that the original dialogue was awkward for a Chinese audience.
“Others also recalled the racist playground slur ‘Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these,'” according to the SCMP.
“Even though subtitles come with the films sent for approval, censors you need to listen carefully before you pass it. Did you even listen to the dialogue?” Xiaozhu Nanhai, an alleged Chinese social media “influencer,” wrote on Weibo on Saturday.
Xiaozhu referred to the Chinese Communist Party practice of vetting and censoring foreign films before they are cleared for theatrical release in China.
“Tencent Pictures has problems, too. I don’t believe such a big company would not have English speakers. How did the subtitles group come to this translation? Please investigate them,” Xiaozhu added.
A message was allegedly sent to Chinese cinemas instructing them to “stop showing the film and prepare to offer refunds,” according to the SCMP, which saw screenshots of the message shared on Weibo on Saturday.
“The message said a new version of the film was being produced and that cinemas should play the new version when it was ready,” the newspaper revealed, adding that it was not able to confirm the authenticity of the alleged messages.
The Hong Kong-based SCMP said it searched for showings of Monster Hunter on the popular Chinese ticketing app Maoyan over the weekend but failed to find any showtimes listed in any cinema associated with the app as of Sunday.
The movie opened on Friday in about 24 percent of Chinese cinemas nationwide. By Saturday, just 0.6 percent of theaters in China were showing the film, according to the entertainment news site Movie Detective Agency.
“Because the game series Monster Hunter and the movie Monster Hunter are produced by different companies, after hearing everyone’s feedback to the movie, we have collected many opinions and have relayed them to the relevant companies,” Capcom Asia wrote in the statement posted to Weibo on Friday.
Japan’s Sony has worldwide rights to the film “outside of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, China and Japan and has a December 25 North American date lined up,” according to Deadline.
“Through Friday midnight, Monster Hunter had grossed about $5.3M which portended a weekend in the mid-high teens before the film was stopped in its tracks,” the U.S. entertainment news site reported.