China-censored version of ‘The Shape of Water’ adds shadows to erase nudity

Society & Culture

Chinese audiences are used to censored, “clean” versions of Hollywood imports involving violence, nudity, sex scenes, or profanity. Without an age-based rating system, what Chinese moviegoers can see in theaters completely depends on the country’s top media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China (SAPPRFT), which, in the recent release of 2017 Oscar winner The Shape of Water, altered scenes where actors are in states of undress by adding shadows on their bodies.

According to a Weibo post by movie critic Feng Xiaoqiang 冯小强, in one scene of the Chinese revised version of the film, the female protagonist, Elisa, is covered in black shadows from her chest to her thighs, whereas in the original cut in the U.S., where the movie was given an R rating by the MPAA for “for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language,” the actress is fully naked with her back facing the camera.

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“That was my first time seeing this in a Chinese theater. I was stunned,” Feng wrote. “It almost looks like the actress is dressed in an all-black one-piece swimsuit, and it fits her well.”

Feng also notes that in addition to this newly invented method, the whole film uses a combination of various censoring techniques employed by SAPPRFT in the past. Some scenes are completely stripped from the movie, such as the opening sequence of Elisa masturbating in her tub and several sex scenes, which severely undermines the integrity of this romance story.

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To avoid nudity, another method used in the movie is to zoom in the camera on the actress’s face while cutting other parts of her body out of the frame.

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However, with the removal of a few scenes, the modified version somehow still managed to maintain the same length of 123 minutes as its original. In his post, Feng said that since he didn’t notice any replacement footage in the movie, his guess is that SAPPRFT has extended the time for opening or closing credits.

Amused by the “fit swimsuit” that SAPPRFT forced Elisa to wear, Chinese internet users started to “dress” characters in other movies to ridicule the prudishness of SAPPRFT, who, for whatever reason, don’t think Chinese audiences — even grown-ups — are to be trusted with any nudity or sex-related scenes in movies.

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