Hong Kong blocks screening of ‘The Dark Knight’ Batman film featuring corrupt Chinese businessman character

October 21, 2022, 2:36 PM UTC
Chistopher Nolan and Christian Bale
(L to R) Director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale (as 'Batman') meet the media during the press conference of new movie 'Batman - The Dark Knight' at Grand Hyatt Hotel, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, November 2007.
Oliver Tsang/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

A Hong Kong outdoor cinema operator cancelled the screening of a Batman film, citing concerns from the government that the movie was too violent.

The showing of the 2008 movie The Dark Knight set for Oct. 27 at the open-air Grounds venue was called off “based on direction from the HK Government Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration,” according to a notice that organizers sent to ticket holders on Thursday. Iron Man will be shown instead and refunds were available. 

The Hong Kong government recommended that the screening be scrapped because “for an outdoor screening, the level of violence was not appropriate,” according to an emailed statement from the organizer, Hong Kong-based Greater Bay Media Entertainment Ltd. A spokesman for the organizer said such discussions weren’t unusual and were a normal part of the licensing process. 

Hong Kong’s film office said that it wouldn’t comment on the applications of individual films.

“Please trust our system,” Kevin Yeung, secretary for culture, sports, and tourism, told reporters Friday when asked about the cancelled screening. “We have a very solid system that when we look at a film, whether about the categorization or whether it’s suitable for screening at certain occasions, we have a system to deal with that.”

The cancellation comes amid concerns about the erosion of free speech in Hong Kong, where the government has been cracking down on anti-China speech following large and sometimes violent anti-government protests in 2019. Changes to the Film Censorship Bill in 2021 allowed for fines of as high as HK$1,000,000 ($130,000) and as long as three years in prison for anyone who screens non-approved content.

The law allows inspectors without a warrant to search premises showing a film to see if it runs contrary to the interests of a national security law that Beijing imposed on the city.

In August, Hong Kong censors banned an award-winning animation that included a one-second scene depicting protests in 2014. The filmmakers behind Losing Sight of a Longed Place said it was pulled from a movie event after they refused to submit an edited version, without specifying what changes censors wanted.

Warner Bros. chose not to show The Dark Knight on the mainland when it was initially released, Variety reported in 2008. The studio cited “a number of pre-release conditions that are being attached” and “cultural sensitivities to some elements of the film.” The film did appear on Hong Kong’s screens.

The superhero movie featured scenes filmed in the former British colony, including one of Batman on a skyscraper at night. One element of the story that may have angered censors involves a corrupt Chinese businessman.

The Hong Kong government said in 2007 that it had played a role assisting the Batman crew in scouting out filming locations and securing relevant permits. “I am sure Batman will further raise Hong Kong’s profile and attract more tourists to come here,” Jack So, chairman of the Hong Kong Film Development Council, was quoted as saying at the time.

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