Chinese censors give ‘Fight Club’ new ending to make police win, angering fans and inspiring memes

Society & Culture

Although there’s no evidence that the editing was ordered by Chinese authorities, many critics pinned the blame on the complex — and sometimes arbitrary — censorship rules in China, which discourage the release of cultural products with portrayals of nudity, violence, and other intense material.

fight club

More than two decades after its initial release, Fight Club, David Fincher’s beloved cult classic, has recently gotten an online release on Tencent Video, one of the biggest streaming sites in China. But in a move that has upset and confused many, Chinese censors have given the movie a makeover, altering its iconic ending to something less anarchist and destructive than the original.

In the original final scene of the movie, after a string of mind-bending plot twists and escalating tension, the 1999 psychological thriller (spoiler alert) sees the Narrator (Edward Norton) ridding himself of his imaginary alter ego, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and then watching with his girlfriend, Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), as explosives blow up and bring down a cluster of skyscrapers, implying that the protagonist’s plan to rebuild modern civilization by destroying key financial institutions in society has officially begun.

In Tencent’s version, however, the final action has been removed entirely. Instead, before the explosion happens, an English-language title appears, telling viewers that the authorities have successfully stopped Tyler’s grandiose plan for mass destruction. The text reads:

“Through the clue provided by Tyler, the police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to [a] lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.”

According to Vice, Tencent Video declined to comment when contacted and asked whether the ending was changed due to self-censorship or by government directive. But a source familiar with the matter told the publication that the film had undergone editing by its copyright owner and acquired approval from the country’s media regulator before it was sold to streaming platforms for distribution. Vice also noted that the Chinese publisher of Fight Club, Pacific Audio & Video Co., is connected to Guangdong TV, a state-owned television network.

Talking to Variety, an executive who is “deeply involved in the import of foreign films into China” described the re-editing as “kind of genius.” “They have added something that was not in the original film, and they’ve done so with lettering in the original font so that it fits in believably. It has to have been done in post-production,” the person said.

But the careful editing didn’t change the fact that the film has been basically rewritten. And as screenshots of the edited cut started doing the rounds on social media, the alternation sparked immediate ire from Chinese movie buffs who had seen the original abroad or via privacy. “You might as well take down the entire film. Changing its plots is like the worst insult one could make to the movie’s creator and its fans,” a commenter wrote (in Chinese) on the movie’s review page on Douban, China’s IMDB equivalent.

Although there’s no evidence that the editing was ordered by Chinese authorities, many critics pinned the blame on the complex — and sometimes arbitrary — censorship rules in China, where cultural products — including foreign imports — are subjected to close security and could get punished for portrayals of nudity, violence, and other intense material. In the case of Fight Club, many internet users suspected that it was the film’s distributor or the product that offered the cuts to avoid obvious problems. “There’s no artistic creativity or freedom allowed on this land,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

Outside China, the news was met with a great deal of ridicule and amusement. On Twitter, the recut launched a slew of memes with people using title cards to display descriptions of alternative endings to movies.

Fight Club is far from the only foreign movie to undergo special edits in order to be shown in China. In 2019, multiple scenes featuring drug use and gay romance were removed from Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, in its Chinese release. An array of other films, such as Nicolas Cage’s crime thriller Lords of War and 2017 Oscar winner The Shape of Water, previously had to alter content to please Chinese censors.