Confucius versus "Avatar"

Superstar Chow Yun Fat throws down against a bunch of subversive blue aliens. But the fight is fixed

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 19, 2010 10:56PM (EST)

It appears "Avatar" has finally met its match. Even James Cameron cannot defeat the Chinese government.

According to press reports, the 2D version of "Avatar" is being pulled from 1628 movie screens in China to make room for a biopic on Confucius starring Chow Yun Fat. Both the L.A. Times and the London Times cite a murkily sourced article in Hong Kong's Apple Daily with the purported explanation:

Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar: first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced removal, and may possibly incite violence.

Forced removal, readers will recall, refers to the widespread practice in China in which developers brutally evict residents from their homes or businesses, often with the assistant of street thugs and goons, while the government turns a blind eye.

I'm not sure of how seriously to take the idea that the commissars actually believe that "Avatar" is "subversive." If so, why permit theaters to continue showing the movie on their 3D screens? If the two-dimensional version can deemed dangerous, then the 3D version must be regarded as even more so! Forcible eviction is always worse in three dimensions!

But the great thing about this story is that it doesn't matter if it's true. James Cameron undoubtedly never intended for his film to be read as a commentary on domestic Chinese property development. The Chinese government may well have ordered theaters to pull the flick simply because it wanted to give some breathing space to a patriotic blockbuster -- though one would imagine that Chow Yun Fat plus Confucius would need little help from anyone to dislodge a few blue aliens from their perch. But now that the interpretation of the film as an allegory for abusive behavior in China has become part of the conversation, it can't be dismissed. "Avatar's" work is done -- intentionally or not, ban or no ban.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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