Chinese moviegoers turned up en masse for the debut of Titanic 3D on Tuesday, netting 20th Century Fox International $11.6 million, the second-highest opening-day take ever in the country.
The original Titanic earned $44 million in China in 1998, which stood as the highest gross for 10 years, until it was surpassed by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in 2009, with $15.9 million.
The original romance disaster movie screened in just 180 theaters. The 3D version is currently showing on at least 2,400 3D screens and 66 IMAX screens, with correspondingly higher ticket prices. It is expected to surpass the 2D version’s former record this week.
But many Chinese James Cameron fans in the audience on opening night were dismayed to find that the Chinese release of Titanic 3D is not quite the film they remembered. The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television has excised the film’s few, but memorable, nude scenes. Most noticeably, during the peak romantic moment when Kate Winslet as Rose poses nude for Leonardo DiCaprio to sketch her, Winslet is now cropped from the neck up.
The same scenes were censored during the film’s original run in China in 1998, but many viewers first saw the film on pirated copies from the West, and thus are more familiar with the unedited version.
During opening night and the following day, Chinese micro-blogs were alight with simultaneous gripes about the censoring and nostalgic gushing over the film’s sweeping romantic drama.
"I've been waiting almost 15 years, and not for the 3D icebergs," said one widely cited micro blog commentator, according to Xinhua News Agency.
More worryingly SARFT’s move suggests that while Chinese cinema has been making remarkable strides in terms of infrastructure development, the industry’s regulatory regime has stood still, if not occasionally slipped backwards, in terms of freedom of expression.
Adding to the Titanic frenzy, many prominent Western media outlets (including THR for a brief period) were momentarily duped by a satirical joke that swept through Chinese micro-blogs, attributing the following explanation for the cuts to a SARFT official: "Considering the vivid 3D effects, we fear that viewers may reach out their hands for a touch and thus interrupt other people's viewing. To avoid potential conflicts between viewers and out of consideration of building a harmonious ethical social environment, we've decided to cut off the nudity scenes."
In fact, SARFT has not released any official comment about the censorship.
Ironically, in Hong Kong, where the film is playing uncensored, it has performed markedly worse, opening third behind local rom-com Love in the Buff and the Julia Roberts starrer Mirror Mirror, pulling in just $670,000.
Some signs suggest that Titanic fever may soon take hold in Hong Kong too though. To mark the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of the disaster, a well known luxury restaurant in the city’s colonial themed Hullet House hotel will soon be serving select diners a special recreation of the last menu dished out on the luxury cruise ship before it went down, along with original wine recovered from the wreckage, according to the South China Morning Post.
"The idea is to recreate the ambience on the ship," Michelin-starred chef Philippe Orrico, who is re-envisioning the menu in Hong Kong, told the Post. "It's for people who want to be somewhere else."
During the occasion, the hotel’s waiters will be outfitted in period-appropriate uniforms and tables will feature dressings evoking the vessel’s original dining hall, along with bone china produced by the same manufacturer who supplied the Titanic in 1912.
For HK$15,000 (US$1,930) per head, the first diners on April 14 can enjoy their ten-course dinner with a glass of Heidsieck Monopole Gout American vintage 1907, pulled from the sea in 1998 and reportedly purchased by Hullett House for $11,000.