It’s been well documented that I had serious misgivings of Django Unchained when it came out in theaters last year:
So when I heard there may be a newer, cooler version being worked on closely by Quentin Tarentino, Sony Pictures officials, and a shadowy group of Chinese censor artisans, I resolved to give it a fresh try. As you may have heard by now, the release of that improved film didn’t go as planned today. Luckily for you, I was in attendance at the opening day premiere and am now ready to give my analysis of “Django Unchained: Chinese Edition”.
The film opens onto a brilliant desertscape. No people are visible but rocks, wind carved into flowing and rounded shapes, dot the scene. Finally, the film pans over to a group of travelers. It is clear that some are in chains. A song about Django plays over the images of the men in bondage being escorted by two armed men on horses. Django (Jamie Foxx) is seen with numerous scars on his back, it’s clear he has had a hard scrabble life as a slave in the Southwest. Cut to night time, the men still stumble on in the dark but suddenly a lantern light appears in the distance. As it draws closer, the slavers grow anxious – cocking their shotguns and peering into the distance in expectation of confrontation. One calls out and demands the man identify himself. He gets closer and we see it’s none other than Dr. Shultz (Christoph Waltz) in his dentist wagon! He attempts to ask questions to the two slavers when, and this is unique in all of American cinema but seems to be a tired trope in the Chinese version (the audience I was with seemed unsurprised), the lights go on and the film stops. Thought provoking and powerful, your eyes have to get adjusted to the new brilliance of the scene. So dedicated to the craft of film immersion, the Chinese government must have paid people to march in just at that moment (in perfect choreography) and demand the film be ended then and there.
I’ll admit the film leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Who was this Dr. Shultz? What was his business with the slavers? Does Django ever escape his bondage? Will they allow me to speak to my lawyer? Does the term “indefinite detention” not mean anything to these people? I would hate to think that Quentin Tarentino has done this to leave the option open for sequels, but with the success of “The Hobbit: Part 1” I wouldn’t be surprised.
Overall though the movie is a triumph. It is a nihilistic commentary on the hopelessness of a people who were prevented even the most basic forms of comforts (like clothes, freedom, or the ability to watch movies unharrassed) that illustrates just how difficult it would be to live in a society like that. Never once does it waver (from credits to one minute after the credits) from its position that what these men in shackles are facing is beyond their control. I for one counted my lucky stars that I was born in an era where suppression of freedom was virtually unknown to the world.
5 out of 5 stars
- ‘Django Unchained’ pulled from China theaters for ‘technical reasons’ (entertainment.nbcnews.com)