Chinese film director criticises Hollywood for turning a blind eye to censorship

Big-budget US movies are taking the bulk of the box office takings in China Photo: ITV News

On the eve of the Oscars, an award-winning Chinese director has criticised Hollywood's 'collaboration' with China's film censors.

Zhang Yuan, who has been making critically acclaimed films for more than 20 years, accuses US studios of being too willing to accept a system that restricts Chinese filmmakers.

For a slice of lucrative box office takings, US studios are agreeing to change plots and scripts.

Skyfall, the latest Bond movie, was censored before it could be seen by a Chinese audience.References to prostitution and gangsters were changed. The plot was altered, removing lines about the villain being held in Chinese custody.

For leading director Zhang Yuan, Hollywood's cooperation with the censors undermines the fight for freedom of expression by China's filmmakers.

He told me: "After so many years of reform, China is still among a small number of countries, including North Korea and Iran, which has a censorship system."

Zhang Yuan's groundbreaking work has led to him being blacklisted in the past. He criticises Hollywood's willingness to accept censorship.

"Hollywood gets away with just making a few cuts, it's a lot more strict for Chinese films ... Hollywood directors should stand up and appeal against censorship."

The latest Bond movie Skyfall was censored for Chinese cinemas Credit: MGM

Around 10 new cinemas are opening every day in China; a growing middle class is looking for ways to spend time and money. Ticket sales are up a third; the box office is now worth a blockbusting £1.9 billion.

Although there's a quota imposed on foreign films, 30 have been allowed in this year as long as some are 3D or IMax. The all-action, big-budget US movies are taking the bulk of the box office takings.

Chinese movies are struggling to get mass audiences. American action movies, with big explosions and gun fights, don't tend to deal with the gritty issues facing Chinese society and are passed more easily.

The problem is partly the lack of a classification system, without 18 or 15 certificates. This means all films have to be cut until they are family friendly.

Zhang Yuan's award-winning films have sometimes seen him blacklisted Credit: ITV News

The new film Cloud Atlas had around 40 minutes cut out - mainly sex scenes - before it could be shown in China.

Most Chinese directors stick to patriotic war films, which are easier to get past the censors. Films that might raise questions about the government or scripts based on modern politics face a bureaucratic brick wall.

Zhang Yuan's latest film Beijing Flickers follows the lives of a young group of friends as they struggle to make their way in modern China. The movie has been with the censors for a year.

While the number of Hollywood movies allowed to be shown is increasing, the pioneering director sees no end to censorship.