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Opinion: In China, movie villains don't get away

Visitors to a cinema showing the latest "Minions: The Rise of Gru" movie get their tickets checked in Beijing.
Ng Han Guan
Visitors to a cinema showing the latest "Minions: The Rise of Gru" movie get their tickets checked in Beijing.

Spoiler alert: this essay may contain endings to films you have not seen. Especially, it seems, if you live in China.

Reuters reports government censors there have spliced a new ending announcement onto the movie "Minions: The Rise of Gru." Instead of just letting Gru and Wild Knuckles, the film's anti-heroes, evade authorities and ride off with smiles, Chinese censors added a message instructing viewers that supervillain Wild Knuckles was arrested and served 20 years in jail, while Gru returned to a quiet life with his family.

China shows a limited number of foreign films, and many of them have some scenes cut, or the endings changed, so those movies don't appear to undermine official authorities.

Undermining authority propels the plot of so many great films, from "The Godfather" to "Breathless," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" to "Boyz N the Hood."

But in China, that kind of storyline doesn't just earn a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

You might consider what kind of new ending could be added to a few well-known movies to make them more agreeable to censors there.

"Jaws" wouldn't end with the shark sinking the boat and then getting blown apart by an exploding air tank, but with a sign that tells viewers, "the pernicious shark was captured by the Armed Maritime Police of the People's Republic of China and released into Australian coastal waters."

At the end of Kurosawa's "Rashomon," which depicts a story from four different viewpoints, officials might splice on an ending to say, "but the viewpoint of the Chinese Communist Party is always correct."

An on-screen coda might announce that Paddington Bear was detained for swiping marmalade. Or that Principal Rooney got Ferris Bueller expelled for skipping class, and sent to reform school. But Ferris has atoned for his transgressions and is happy to be a loyal and productive member of society.

And if "Casablanca" were to be shown today in China, the new ending might have Rick tell Ilsa, "we'll always have Paris, but what a shame it couldn't be Guangzhou." And then all the characters would adjourn to Rick's Cafe to tearfully sing a stirring anthem.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.