The fantasy movie Monster Hunter was pulled from Chinese theaters a day after its release after a scene where the characters play a pun with the words “knees” and “Chinese” sparked the offense.
The film, based on the popular video game series Capcom, was released in China on Friday, weeks before its scheduled launch in the United States. However, cinemas soon began canceling screenings and refunding tickets after clips of the short scene were shown on Chinese social media.
According to Variety, the offensive clip features two characters, a white male and an Asian male, played by Jin Au-Yeung, driving together. Jin says “Look at my knees!”, To which the other character responds, “What kind of knees are these?” “Chinese! Jin jokes.
The offense around the stage appeared to have two elements – that the dialogue recalled racist rhyming in the schoolyard, and that the Chinese translation made Jin say something completely different. The subtitle seemed to avoid trying to translate an English pun, instead making it say, “Men have gold under their knees and only kneel before Heaven and their Mother,” but the replacement total suggested to some viewers that the filmmakers were trying to cover up a racist joke.
On Weibo, the hashtag “Monster Hunter removed” has been viewed over 7.87 million times, and games company Capcom Asia has reportedly sought to distance itself from the film.
Deadline reported that Chinese Tencent Pictures was working with Chinese authorities to edit the scene.
The controversy has highlighted how difficult it is for entertainment companies to manage sensitivities in the huge Chinese market, while navigating the country’s strict censorship laws.
The film was produced by companies such as German Constantin Films and Tencent Pictures. Constantin Films released a statement, saying he “sincerely apologizes to the Chinese public” for the line of dialogue.
“There was absolutely no intention to discriminate against, insult or offend anyone of Chinese descent.” He said he had “listened to the concerns expressed by the Chinese public” and the line was dropped, but the online outrage continued.
“Apologies are not being accepted, didn’t you think of that when you wrote the script… I don’t believe it… it must have been written on purpose,” one said. “It was a very bad case of racial discrimination, there is no misunderstanding,” wrote another.
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang