“Devils on the Doorstep”: An Interesting Look into Film Censorship

In 2000, Jiang Wen’s film Devil on the Doorstep was banned in China, after coming in second for the Cannes Grand Prix. The film depicts a situation in which a Chinese villager, Ma Dasan, is forced to watch over a Japanese prisoner and a Chinese interpreter. Unable to bring himself to kill them, Ma hides them in an old watchtower and starts taking care of them. In the end, the two prisoners are traded back to the Japanese Army in exchange for carts of grain, but a subsequent misunderstanding ends in a massacre.

Interestingly, China Digital Times published the verdict of the SARFT film censorship board on Devils on the Doorstep. Normally, censorship decisions are not made public, and their content is only revealed by reference in interviews with filmmakers. However, this document provides an insight into some of SARFT’s methods and priorities.

The most important part of the verdict relates to the portrayal of Chinese villagers and Japanese soldiers against the background of the Second World War, or, using the Chinese term, the War to Resist Japan. Throughout, SARFT takes the film to task for incorrect depictions of the nature of the Chinese people. An old grandfather should not be shown as being sympathetic to a young Chinese soldier, it is deemed incorrect that the villagers care for the Japanese soldier and the Chinese traitor (汉奸 hanjian), or that they indicate that they haven’t really suffered under the occupation. When the Japanese soldier imagines being attacked by the villagers, he imagines them as Samurai. However, SARFT feels that what he should feel most are “the armies resisting Japan, such as the Eighth Route Army or guerrilla forces”. Imagining villagers as samurai “uglifies the Chinese people”. In short, in this film, the “common Chinese people” do not show sufficient hatred towards the Japanese, do not sufficiently differentiate between foe and friend, and display ignorance and apathy. At the same time, according to SARFT, the film does not correctly display the cruelty of the Japanese army but, amongst others, shows a Japanese soldier giving sweets to children. Also, “Japanese army songs are played often, putting a spin on the Japanese imperialists flaunting their strength, which may gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

A smaller issue comes at the end of the film, where a Guomindang general declares that only the Guomindang can legally accept the surrender of Japanese troops. Again, this does not fit in official CCP historiography and is therefore beyond the pale.

Lastly, there are a few issues of obscenity and language. A sex scene between Ma Dasan and his lover Yu’er is deemed to “bring about strong, harmful sensual stimulation to people.” A scene in which the villagers’ pack donkey gets aroused by a Japanese army donkey is described as vulgar and boring.

In the light of recent, island-related events, the focus on the manicheist separation between the heroic Chinese and the agressive Japanese invaders provides an interesting insight in the politics of division practiced by the censorship board. By insisting on one-dimensional representation of ethnicities, the board seems to deny the possibility to portray a human connection between the Chinese and the Japanese, as has been explored in many Western WW2 films, including Schindler’s List. Rather, the insistence of a politically correct vision of history reinforces Chinese exceptionalism and the dehumanisation of the Japanese, however horrifying some wartime acts might have been.

In terms of obscene content, again, a logic of dehumanisation takes place. By denying the sexuality of Ma Dasan and Yu’er, the board seems to require these characters to become larger than life superhumans. Perhaps the underlying purpose of this direction of censorship can be best explained by understanding the process of content review as an effort to direct the content of film towards the grand objectives of the CCP. In this view, film is not an open artistic expression to be judged on its own merits by audiences, but is a purposive tool to build awareness of the century of humiliation, the innate superiority of the Chinese people, and the grand destiny to which it is called. That being said, this document is now twelve years old, and more light would be shed on the evolution of this matter if more censorship decisions were made public. If anyone is aware of such documents, please contact us.

State Administration of Radio, Film and Television Film Examination Committee Examination Opinion concerning “Devils on the Doorstep”

The coproduced film “Devils on the Doorstep” that your company submitted has been examined by the Film Examination Committee. The Examination Committee believes that:

The script of this film has not been revised strictly according to the Film Bureau “Response concerning Project Establishment of the Coproduction ‘Devils on the Doorstep’” (DZ No.[1998]302), and has been filmed without authorization under the circumstances that no script has been submitted for filing, at the same time, lines and scenes have been added in many places without authorization, resulting in a film, that on the one hand, not only has not expressed the hatred and opposition of the common Chinese people against the invasion, against the great background of the War to Resist Japan (the sole person daring to scold and oppose the Japanese Army is a madman annoying the villagers), on the contrary, it prominently displays and concentratedly exaggerates their ignorance, apathy and servility, and on the other hand, has not only not fully revealed the Japanese imperialist and aggressive nature, but prominently plays up the rampant manner in which Japanese invaders flaunt their strength, leading to grave deviations in the basic concept of the film.

Filthy words appear repeatedly in the film, and Japanese soldiers often take the insult “Chinese pigs” into their mouths, furthermore, there are shots with naked female bodies, the overall style is vulgar and does not conform to the standards of the “Film Examination Regulations”.

The name of the film must be chosen again according to the repeated requirements of the Film Bureau.

The film must, after earnest revision according to the attachment, be resubmitted for examination.

Attachment: “Major Differences Between the Film “Devils on the Doorstep” and the Approved Script”

I, Unauthorized revised and added scenes, resulting in grave deviations in the basic concept of the film:

1, On pages 7 and 8 of the script, when the masses of villagers in the original literary script try the Japanese Soldier Hanaya and the Chinese traitor Dong Hancheng , they does not show fear, but excoriate them: “You want to make trouble, there are no sweet cakes for your to eat” and “We will beat all the yellow out of you”, etc.  But the film shows that the villagers fear them from the start. And the lines of Grandfather in shot 240 were added: “I see you are also children”, displaying common Chinese people as stupid and ignorant, making no difference between foe and friend.

2, The film bureau has insisted on deleting the scene on giving the devils wheat flour and rice to eat in the literary script, but in the film, not only has this scene not been deleted, but it repeatedly plays up Ma Dasan’s lending rice to Erbozi, agreeing on repaying eight times the loan, and the villagers also excitedly wrapping dumplings for Japanese soldiers and Chinese traitors. It objectively expresses the times of extreme difficulties of life for the common Chinese people during wartime, but their active care for Japanese soldiers and Chinese traitors, gravely violates history.

3, Shots 1027; In comparison with the literary script, the film adds lines for Erbozi: “The Japanese have come to our village eight years ago, what happened in those eight years, have they dared to touch one hair of mine? I’m doing fine, walking level, wherever I go, they will look highly at me”. The Japanese invaders were burning, killing, pillaging and looting China for eight years, committing heinous crimes, however, the film says, through the mouth of the wife of Erbozi that the Japanese army was highly disciplined towards them, embellishing the Japanese invaders.

4, Shots 472 to 496, in comparison with the literary script, the film added a section in which the Japanese Soldier Hanaya thinks that Ma Dasan has brought the villagers and comes breaking through, and imagines Ma Dasan and the villagers with the appearance of Samurai. Against the great background of the War of Resistance, the most dreaded fear of the Japanese soldier Hanaya should be the armies resisting Japan, such as the Eighth Route Army or guerrilla forces, the scene in which Ma Dasan and the villagers are imagined as Japanese samurai is not only false, it also uglifies Chinese people.

5, Shots 877 to 893, shorts 918 to 931, shots 941 to 947, and shorts 954 to 959, in comparison with the literary script, the film has added the storyline that the villagers think Ma Dasan killed the devils, pay not attention to him, and even Yu’er avoids him, upsetting Ma Dasan’s nerve. It displays multitudinous common Chinese people who don’t have the necessary hatred against the Japanese army, don’t differentiate between foe and friend, are ignorant and apathetic.

6, Shots 1002 to 1069; in comparison with the literary script, the film has added a storyline where after the small child’s learning Japanese creates danger, a crowd of villagers gets angry at Ma Dasan, and compete one by one to let him kill himself, and put his head on the table; Yu’er sais to the villagers: “isn’t letting him kill people, also letting me harbouring sinister designs? Look at these two days, you haven’t paid any attention to him. If we don’t kill people, we are forced to kill people, if we have killed people, we are not given any attention, looking at Ma Dasan is the same as looking at the devil, no-one has died, and you clash with us and do this…” It displays that common Chinese people not only do not dare to resist the enemy, but also are full of servility towards and fear of the invaders, can only fight among themselves, and are mutually suspicious and jealous.

7, Page 34 of the script: In the original script, when One Stroke Liu talks about his skill in killling, he says he killed a palace eunuch having a clandestine affair, but in shots 1177 to 1199 if the film, it has changed to One Stroke Liu having killed “eight ministers from the side of Cixi” and “the master of the Hundred Days of Reform, Tan Sitong”, this not only endows it with new political content, but also plays up the pride in beheading skills, with the result that he fails in killing the Japanese soldiers, exclaims “all my life’s glory, destroyed in a moment”, and runs away despondently. For people, it is a metaphor that in the last century, Chinese people were only able to take the axe to their own people, and did not dare to resist foreign aggression.

8, On page 39 of the script, everyone is discussing to send the devils back, in the original script, it is described that when the Japanese army arrives in the village, they draw a circle by sprinkling white rice, encircling the commoners, and force them to eat the rice, those who are unable to eat more, have their heads restrained and rice pressed into their mouth, an when the Japanese captain talks, the commoners pay no attention to him. However, in shots 1763 to 1871 of the film, this scene has been changed into a get-together, and forcefully plays up that they drink wine and sing songs together, the villagers are eternally grateful, the Japanese army is as close as brothers with the villagers, and there are lines such as “Today, I am happy, not only because of these grain carts, but mainly because the Imperial Army has given us face”, etc., this is a major change to the concept of the script, and is utterly contrary to the theme.

9, On pages 47 to 40 of the script; in the scene of the massacre of the villagers, in the original script, there are descriptions of common people who finally come to there senses, rise up and revolt, such as Erbozi picking up a steel helmet and striking Japanese soldiers with it, and the mother of Erbozi who takes of her shoes to hit the devils, and shouts: “Don’t be stupid, pick up weapons and fight.” But in the films, in shots 1872 to 2073, the commoners don’t fight with the devils until they die, and when facing massacre, essentially wait helplessly for death, and let themselves be trampled.

11, The only person who dares to scold and resist Japan in this film is a lunatic who annoys the villagers.

12, In comparison with the literary script, a scene is added in which a Guomindang general convenes the commoners, he openly executes Chinese traitors, and when giving his speech to accept surrender, says: “Only the republican armies are the legal acceptors of surrendering Japanese troops.” He also has a Japanese person lend a hand to kill Ma Dasan. This utterly reverses factual acts, but receives the agreement of the surrounding commoners, it gravely distorts history, and has not achieved the effect of criticising and mocking the Guomindang.

13, In the film, there are two persons singing ditties, who appear three times in total, there is no description of this in the original literary script. In shot 1099, lines such as “The Imperial Army comes to our village, let’s jointly build a common flourishing circle in East Asia, the Imperial Army has come to help the needy and relieve the distressed” have also been added. This is typical of the imagery of ignorance, apathy and being slaves without a country.

14, The content of Crazy Old Seven’s words when cursing Ma Dasan and Yu’er and when cursing Japanese devils is similar, this is extremely inappropriate.

15, In many places in the film, the mouths of Japanese people are used to insult Chinese people for “Chinese dogs”, gravely harming the image of China.

II, In the reply to the script, revision opinions were put forward, but in the following places, these revisions have not been made in the film:

1, On page 2 of the script: after Nonomura finishes juggling, he puts away his pack of sweets into his bag, displaying the Japanese army’s teasing children. In shot 24 of the film, he not only gives sweets, but also repeatedly displays Chinese children in pursuit of Japanese soldiers, asking for sweets.

2, On page 2 of the script: the scene in which Ma Dasan and Yu’er gasp violently for breath on the bed and  Yu’er is naked should already have been deleted in the original script. In shots 28 to 41 of the film, it has not only not been deleted, but lines have also been added: “Let me look”, “Look at what, faster, don’t have a rest”. The effect of the length, imagery and sounds of this bed scene are strong, and bring about strong, harmful sensual stimulation to people.

3, On page 40 of the script: When the donkey is in heat, in the original literary script, it was changed into the donkey running into the devils’ granary. In shorts 1590 to 1606 of the film, it has not been revised. This storyline has a vulgar style and is boring.

4. In the original literary script, the absolute majority of dirty works should have been deleted, but in the film, they are ubiquitous, and many characters use dirty words.

5, In the film, Japanese army songs are played often, putting a spin on the Japanese imperialists flaunting their strength, which may gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.

广播电影电视总局电影审查委员会关于《鬼子来了》的审查意见

你公司送审的合拍片《鬼子来了》已经电影审查委员会审查。审委会认为:
影片没有严格按照电影局《关于合拍片<鬼子来了>立项的批复》(电字[1998]第302号)中的意见修改剧本,并在没有报送备案剧本的情况下擅自拍摄,同时又擅自增加多处台词和情节,致使影片一方面不仅没有表现出在抗日战争大背景下,中国百姓对侵略者的仇恨和反抗(唯一一个敢于痛骂和反抗日军的还是个招村民讨嫌的疯子),反而突出展示和集中夸大了其愚昧、麻木、奴性的一面,另一方面,不仅没有充分暴露日本军国主义的侵略本质,反而突出渲染了日本侵略者耀武扬威的猖獗气势,由此导致影片的基本立意出现严重偏差。
影片多处出现污言秽语,并从日本兵口中多次辱骂“支那猪”,另外还有女性的裸露镜头,整体上格调低俗,不符合《电影审查规定》的标准。影片片名须按电影局多次要求重新选择。影片须在参照附件认真修改后,重新报请审查。 附:《影片<鬼子来了>与批准立项剧本主要不同之外》

  《影片<鬼子来了>与批准立项剧本主要不同之处》

一, 擅自修改、增加情节导致影片基本立意出现严重偏差:

1,剧本第7至8页,原文学剧本中众村民审日本兵花屋及汉奸董汉臣时,并未表现出恐惧,喝斥他们:“要闹歪,没你香饽饽吃,”,“掺假可整出你的黄来”等。而影片却表现村民一开始就惧怕他们。并增加第240镜五舅老爷台词:“我看你们也都是孩子”,将中国百姓表现得愚昧无知、敌我不分。

2,对给鬼子吃细粮的情节,在文学剧本阶段,电影局始终坚持删掉,但影片不仅未删,却反复渲染马大三向二拨子娘借米那,约定借一还八,从村民还热热闹闹给日本兵和汉奸包饺子。客观上表现了战争时期的中国百姓在生活极度困难之时,并主动关心日兵和汉奸,严重违背了历史。

3,第1027镜;影片较之文学剧本增加了二拨子娘台词:“日本子来咱们村都八年了,八年了咋的,他八年了他敢动我一根汗毛?我行的正,走的端,我走到哪他都得高看我一眼。”日本侵略者在中国烧杀抢掠八年,犯下滔天罪行,影片却借二拨子娘之口说日军对自己秋毫无犯,美化了日本侵略者。

4,第472镜至496镜,影片较之原剧本增加了日兵花屋想象马大三带乡亲们冲过来的一段,并将马大三和乡亲们设计成日本武士的样子。在抗战大背景下,日兵花屋最惧怕的应是抗日队伍,是八路军、游击队,马大三和乡亲被设计成日本武士的情节不仅虚假,也丑化了中国人。

5,第877镜至893镜,第918镜至931镜,第941镜至947镜,第954镜至959镜,影片较之原剧本增加了村民以为马大三杀了鬼子,都不理他,甚至鱼儿也躲着他,使马大三神经受刺激的情节。表现了中国众多百姓对日军没有应有的仇恨,以至敌我不分、愚昧麻木。

6,1002镜至1069镜;影片较之原剧本增加了小孩学日本语造成危险之后,众村民向马大三发火,一个个争着让他杀了自己,并把头放到了桌子上的情节;鱼二跟村民说:“让他杀人,那不是让我怀鬼胎吗……看看这两天,你们谁搭理他了……不杀人,逼我们杀人,杀了人,又不搭理我们,见了马大三跟见了鬼似的,人没死,冲我们又弄这个……”表现了中国百姓不仅不敢抗敌,而且对侵略者充满奴性和恐惧,对自己人只会窝里斗,互相猜忌。

7,剧本第34页:原剧本中一刀刘讲自己杀人技巧时,说的是杀偷情的太监,而影片第1177镜至1199镜,改成了一刀刘杀的是“慈禧身边的八大臣”,“百日维新之主谭嗣同”,不仅赋予了新的政治内涵,并对砍头技巧加以自豪的渲染,结果杀日本兵时却遭失败,感叹“英名一世,毁于一旦”,最后狼狈逃走。给人以千百年来中国人只会举起屠刀杀自己人,却不敢抵御外侮的隐喻。

8,剧本第39页,大家商量送鬼子回去一场,原文学剧本中描写日军到了村中,将大米洒成一圈,将百姓圈住,逼百姓吃饭,吃不下的还按住头往嘴里塞,日军队长讲话时,百姓们都不理他。而影片第1763镜至1871镜,将这场戏改为联欢,并大力渲染,一起喝酒唱歌,百姓们感激不尽,日军与村民亲如兄弟,并有“今儿我高兴,不单是冲这几车粮食,主要是冲皇军给了我们面子”等台词,这是对剧本立意的重大改动,从根本上悖离了主题。

10,剧本第47页至49页;屠杀村民场面,原文学剧本中有百姓终于醒悟,奋起反抗的描写,如二拨端起钢盔砸向日本兵,二拨子娘脱下鞋打鬼子,并喊道:“别傻了,抄家伙拼吧”。但影片第1872镜至2073镜,百姓们至死也未与鬼子拼斗,面对屠杀基本是束手待毙,任人宰割。

11,影片中唯一一个敢于痛骂和反抗日本侵略者的人还是招村民讨嫌的疯子。

12,影片较之文学剧本增加了国民党将领召集百姓聚会的场面,他公开处死汉奸,发表受降讲话,在讲话中说:“只有国军才是投降日军唯一合法的接收者。”并借日本人之手杀死马大三。而这一切颠倒事实的行为,却得到了围观百姓的呼应,严重歪曲了历史,没有达到批判和讽刺国民党的效果。

13,影片中有两个唱小曲的人物,共出场三次,原文学剧本中无此描写。镜头第1099“皇军来到咱家乡,共建大东亚共荣圈,皇军来了救苦救难……”这样的台词也是增加的。这是典型的愚昧、麻木、亡国奴的形象。

14,疯老七骂大三与鱼儿的话和骂日本鬼子的话内容相同,十分不妥。

15,片中多处借日本人之口辱骂中国人为“支那猪”,严重损害中国的形象。

二,剧本批复中曾提出修改意见,但影片未改之处:

1,剧本第2页:野野村变完把戏之后将糖装回兜里,以表现日军在捉弄孩子。现影片第24镜头,不仅给了糖,而且还几次表现中国孩子追在日军后边要糖吃。

2,剧本第2页:马大三与鱼儿在床上剧烈的喘息声、鱼儿裸体镜头原文学剧本已经将其删除。影片第28至41镜不仅未予删除,还增加了台词:“让我看看。”“看啥呀,快点的,别歇着。” 这段床上戏时间长,画面、声音效果强烈,给人造成强烈的不良的感官刺激。

3,剧本第40页:毛驴发情一场,原文学剧本中已改为毛驴钻入鬼子粮仓。现影片第1590镜至1606镜,未做修改。此情节格调低俗、无聊。

4,原文学剧本中已将绝大多数脏话删改,但影片中比比皆是,每个人物都在骂脏话。

5,影片中频繁吹奏日本军歌,为日本军国主义扬威造势,会严重刺伤中国人民的感情。

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2 thoughts on ““Devils on the Doorstep”: An Interesting Look into Film Censorship

  1. Pingback: "Devils at the Doorstep": A Rare Look at Film Censorship - China Digital Times (CDT)

  2. Pingback: SARFTing Forrest Gump | Clan And Us

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