The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has denied an application by a local director to shoot a Chinese remake of Pixar's Wall-E because the film did not sell the legal rights to the director, according to insiders.
After filing an application to make his own version of the computer-animated blockbuster, the director drew fire from the public, with some accusing him of blatant plagiarism.
A poster of the Disney-Pixar animated film Wall-E [file photo]
According to a notice three days ago on the SARFT's website, the planned film is titled Robot Wali and it tells a love story of two robots in space.
The names of the film's two main characters and the plot are almost the same as Pixar's Wall-E.
Film producers in China need to send summaries of their scripts to provincial branches of the SARFT to get approval before they begin shooting. Every project that has won approval will be available on the SARFT's website.
Although Wall-E was never screened in mainland theaters, its DVD was released in 2008. The picture, which met with universal acclaim, is familiar to most Chinese filmgoers.
The publicized notice soon elicited humorous responses from netizens, many of whom thought it was a joke.
Film critic Zhang Xiaobei discovered it first and posted it on his micro blog.
Hu Ge, a TV commercials director, said: "This must be some kind of performance art".
Web editor Zhao Gang put it more sarcastically: "It turns out that Pixar only made a two-hour trailer for our Chinese blockbuster."
Zhang himself adds: "Does this mean I can now prepare my own The Dark Knight Rises and Star Wars?"
Disney, which owns the copyright of Wall-E, told China Daily via a spokesperson that the company "values and protects its intellectual property vigorously and takes reports of suspected infringement very seriously".
"We are aware of this issue and are working proactively with the relevant government authorities to address that," the spokesperson says.
Xia Peng, the director who submitted the summary to the SARFT, said that he tried to purchase the remake rights to Wall-E for 700,000 yuan (US$110,000).
With that amount of money, senior producer Ben Ji said, it is impossible to buy the remakes right of such a celebrated picture.
Xia admits that he does not have any contract to prove he has bought the remake rights, neither did he include any license agreement of the original scriptwriter in his materials submitted to the Beijing branch of the SARFT.
He even says he wants to make a 3-D Wall-E with an eight-person team. When asked if so few people can fulfill the work, he responds: "You don't know about the animation industry. It's quite simple, just some computer work."
An insider close to the incident reveals that the SARFT has stopped the project after Disney expressed its concern. The notice about the film has disappeared from the administration's website.
Phone calls to the Beijing branch of the SARFT remained unanswered as of press time.
The incident has shown that Chinese film industry still suffers from a lack of creativity, said film critic Shao Yan.
"Posters have been found to copy those of Hollywood films, too," he says. "But it really takes some audacity to simply take away another film's storyline and characters."
Producer Wang Yu tries to see something positive from the situation, however.
"To get the public's opinion and prevent possible mistakes is why the SARFT announces every project on its website," he says.
"The overwhelming outcry from netizens over the incident has shown that the public has developed strong sensitivity to intellectual property. Their rapid and strong response as well as the follow-up of media have made it more difficult for copycat projects to survive."