China Whacks The Departed

Chinese censors have decided to block Martin Scorsese's critically acclaimed American cops-and-crooks drama after deeming a plot point in The Departed referencing activity by China's military inappropriate for viewing in the mainland.

By Josh Grossberg Jan 18, 2007 12:04 AMTags

The Departed won't be leaving for China anytime soon.

Government censors have decided to block Martin Scorsese's Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-buzzing cops-and-crooks drama starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon after objecting to a reference about China's military.

"There is no chance The Departed will be shown in mainland cinemas, because [filmmakers] declined to change a plot line in describing how Beijing wanted to buy advanced military computer hardware," a source within China's cultural ministry told Reuters.

The scene in question involves Nicholson's gangland boss, Frank Costello, and his henchmen, among them DiCaprio's Billy Costigan (aka The Rat). They meet in a Boston warehouse with a group of gun-toting secret agents working for Chinese authorities who hand over a suitcase full of cash in exchange for advanced computer chip technology.

The Departed is widely considered a return to form for Scorsese, winning him a raft of critics awards capped by the Golden Globe for Best Director on Monday. He is considered a frontrunner for the Best Director Oscar, an honor the auteur has missed out on five times.

Beijing's decision to ban The Departed is a bit strange, considering the flick is based on the Hong Kong police thriller trilogy Infernal Affairs that was hugely popular in China.

According to Reuters' unnamed source, the scene involving the Chinese military "is definitely unnecessary," especially since Costello remarks that China's going to be the U.S.'s main adversary in 20 years.

"The regulators just cannot understand why the movie wanted to involve China. They can talk about Iran or Iraq or whatever, but there's no reason to get China in," the source told the wire service.

The ruling was confirmed by an executive working for Hong Kong at Media Asia, the company that controls the right to distribute The Departed inside China. However, given China's booming black market for pirated Hollywood DVDs, it's doubtful the ban will prevent mainland residents from checking out the crime saga if they really choose to do so.

This isn't the first time Scorsese's run afoul of China's Film Censorship Board. Kundun, his 1997 epic about the Dalai Lama, was also barred due to its unflattering portrayal of Chinese policies in Tibet.

But authorities did approve distribution for box-office behemoth Casino Royale, the first time a James Bond adventure has been cleared for the Chinese marketplace. The country's censors typically avoid what they consider the "cultural pollution" of Western-made movies, especially violent or politically or sexually charged fare.

Meanwhile, The Departed is still on track to hit other Asian markets in the coming days. A DiCaprio-led contingent of the film's stars has just arrived in Tokyo for the film's Japanese opening.