'Titanic' sailing on rough raters

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Titanic turned out to be a phenomenon in 1998, in terms of its reputation, box-office returns and the aftershock it caused among filmmakers and audiences, but the Hollywood ship did not sail into China easily.

China started importing foreign films on a revenue-sharing basis in 1994. At first only 10 foreign films a year, mainly Hollywood productions, could be released in Chinese theaters. The quota doubled after 2001.

Hu Qiming, who runs the theater chain Lumiere in China, was chief representative of UCI, a joint venture of Paramount and Universal. Paramount co-distributed the film with 20th Century Fox globally.

He was in charge of the film's entry to the Chinese market, but staff of China Film Group, the only company entitled to import foreign films for theatrical release, did not favor the film much at first.

"They prefer certain genres, featuring chase scenes, crime and action, such as The Fugitive, the first imported blockbuster in 1994," he says.

"They thought that Titanic, being a romantic tragedy, might be a little bit high brow."

The problem did not bother Hu much, however, because the film swept the box office in the United States and proved its potential to make money.

In fact, Kate Winslet as Rose, posing in the nude to have her image sketched by Jack, was a more thorny issue Hu had to deal with.

Hu wanted the film released uncut, but without a rating system nude scenes would not be passed for the big screen in China.

He tried to convince authorities that the scenes should be kept because the film started with a portrait of Rose, so deleting the sketching scenes would damage the film's artistic consistency.

"I used to make films myself, so I know how a director cherishes every minute of the final work," he says.

Luckily for him, in early March 1998, then president Jiang Zemin, known for his passion for the arts, spoke highly of the film in a political meeting and the Chinese media reported his comment.

When the film hit big screens a month later, the nude scenes were uncut.

They will not appear in the 3D release today, however, in the absence of a rating system.

Titanic remains a special film for Hu, who has played a critical part in the release of many Hollywood blockbusters such as Saving Private Ryan and Deep Impact. He feels proud of having had a role in the stir Titanic caused in the country, 15 years ago and is likely to do so again soon.

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