Tencent restores Fight Club ending in China after netizens decry censorship

After an outcry on social media, the original ending was restored.
PHOTO: 20th Century Studios

China’s internet giant Tencent Holdings has restored the original ending of the popular dark satire Fight Club on its video streaming service after censorship of the final scene sparked widespread backlash online.

Last month, Tencent Video started streaming David Fincher’s cult-classic 1999 film, which stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. What viewers did not expect, however, was a cut to black in the final scene with text appearing on screen to explain that the police had arrived in time to arrest the protagonist, thwarting his plan to level skyscrapers containing credit card records with bombs placed around the city. The original ending shows the bombs going off and buildings crumbling to the ground.

The censorship ignited a social media firestorm among the country’s cinephiles. The film now has only about a minute cut – down from around 12 minutes – with a runtime of 137 minutes. As with other films released in China, the new cut keeps out some scenes containing nudity.

China has a long history of altering films and TV shows to make them consistent with what the government considers socialist values. Hollywood studios like Walt Disney and television networks like WarnerMedia’s HBO have seen their content expurgated for release in China. The restoration of the Fight Club ending marks a rare reversal of such a decision.

After the change was noticed in late January, it made headlines around the world, thrusting social media giant Tencent into the middle of a debate about censorship, making it a target of many Chinese netizens.

The Shenzhen-based tech firm, the world’s largest video games company and the operator of WeChat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Fight Club tells the story of an unnamed character, played by Norton, who suffers from insomnia and has an imaginary alter ego named Tyler Durden, played by Pitt. Durden starts an anti-corporate group called Project Mayhem that eventually seeks to wipe out American debt by blowing up the buildings containing credit records. Norton’s character tries to stop the plot when he realises what has happened, but it is too late.

In China, however, authorities are expected to come out victorious in domestic films. In the edited Fight Club ending on Tencent, the on-screen text read, “Through clues provided by Tyler, the police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing Tyler’s plan for mass destruction.”

The text goes on to say that Tyler was sent to a mental hospital and discharged in 2012.

Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel that inspired the film, appeared to mock the move on Twitter. “Everyone gets a happy ending in China!” he wrote.

However, he also noted in an interview with TMZ that the change is ironically closer to the ending of the book, in which the bombs fail to go off and the main character is sent to a mental hospital to receive psychological treatment. The last few lines suggest Project Mayhem has continued in Durden’s absence.

Similar changes have been made to other films in China in the past. Nicolas Cage’s 2005 crime film Lord of War had its final half-hour cut and replaced with text reading, “Yuri Orlov confessed all the crimes officially charged against him in court and was sentenced to life imprisonment in the end.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.