Joker is set to become the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, but moviegoers in China, the world’s second-largest film market, fear they might never get to see the controversial comic book flick in theaters.
The latest DC film tells the origin story of Batman’s arch nemesis, the Joker. In this version, he’s an aspiring stand-up comedian troubled with mental illness who morphs into a murderous clown as he grapples with the cruel and apathetic society he was raised in.
Featuring what some call an “Oscar-worthy” performance by Joaquin Phoenix, the film has already made $737.5 million worldwide, Deadline reports, and it’s set to surpass 2016’s Deadpool, which holds the revenue record of $783 million.
But in China, cinephiles worry that the movie will never land in theaters because it paints a bleak picture of a violent society. In the United States, the film has been a subject of controversy because many believe it invites too much sympathy for a mass murderer and might incite copycat crimes.
Even when R-rated films do get released in China, they can be heavily censored. Logan, known as Wolverine 3 in China, had 14 minutes cut from the China release.
(Read more: This Iron Man knockoff got laughed off the internet)
And the first Deadpool, which holds the record for the highest-grossing R-rated movie, never got a theatrical release in the country. The sequel was only released when it got a PG-13 cut titled Once Upon a Deadpool.
It might get a release “if they change the name to ‘Happy Comedian’ and cut some violent scenes.”
On Zhihu, a Q&A site similar to Quora, one person joked that it might get a release “if they change the name to Happy Comedian and cut some violent scenes.”
Comparisons to Hong Kong
Others believe Joker might never see a China release—or at least get a delayed one—because of similarities between the anticapitalist protests that erupt in the film and the protests happening in Hong Kong.
“It’s impossible,” wrote another user on Zhihu. “Certain scenes in the movies are too similar to what’s happening recently in a certain place.”
That “certain place,” of course, is Hong Kong, where protests that have gone on for four months have become increasingly violent, and people have been using masks to protect their identity, much like in the film.
Ironically, Hong Kong is the one place in China where people can actually watch Joker. The Hong Kong market is separate from the rest of China in terms of film distribution, and movies that aren’t accepted in mainland China can still play in Hong Kong.
Some critics say that the new Joker movie deviates from the more mysterious character featured in The Dark Knight, who was presented as a “malign agent of chaos” and considered a good adaptation of the comic book character who never had an official origin.
In the new film, the Joker has become more of a “V For Vendetta-style anti-capitalist revolutionary.” Society’s role in creating him is seen as a critique of the failures of capitalism.
“A film that criticizes capitalism can be screened in almost every capitalist country, but it can’t be approved in a socialist country like China.”
The irony of a potential blackout in Chinese cinemas wasn’t lost on the public.
“A film that criticizes capitalism can be screened in almost every capitalist country,” one reviewer wrote on Douban, the Chinese version of IMDb, “but it can’t be approved in a socialist country like China.
“That itself is a joke.”
Adapted from an article first published Abacus.