A Hong Kong event organiser has scrapped the screening of a Batman movie after saying government censors “recommended” against showing it over concerns about the film’s violence.

The Grounds, an outdoor event space at the Central Harbourfront, was originally scheduled to screen The Dark Knight on Thursday. It has now been replaced by Iron Man, its website shows.

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Actors Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman in “The Dark Knight” in Hong Kong. Screenshot, via YouTube/Flashback FM.

Released in 2008, The Dark Knight is the second film in the Batman trilogy by British-American director Christopher Nolan. Parts of the film were shot in Hong Kong – Batman comes to the city to pursue an enemy, a corrupt Chinese businessman who laundered money for a mafia group.

Under Hong Kong’s Film Censorship Ordinance, organisers of movies screenings are required to submit works to the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) for film classification and clearance. Films must meet criteria relating to depictions of violence, cruelty and offensive language or behaviour.

Since the passing of the national security law, censorship has been tightened to require authorities to evaluate whether the exhibition of a film would be “contrary to the interests of national security.”

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The Grounds at Central Harbourfront. Photo: The Grounds, via Facebook.

News of the movie’s banning raised questions on social media about whether the movie was politically motivated.

The Dark Night was not screened in mainland China. At the time, producer Warner Bros said that it had opted to “forgo a theatrical release of the film in China” due to a “number of pre-release conditions” attached to the movie and “cultural sensitivities to some elements of the film.”

The Grounds confirmed to HKFP that it had cancelled the movie screening “based on OFNAA’s recommendation.”

“OFNAA felt that for an outdoor screening, the level of violence was not appropriate. This discussion is not unusual. It is a normal part of the licensing process,” a spokesperson for The Grounds said. 

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A scene from “The Dark Knight” shot in Hong Kong. Screenshot, via YouTube/Flashback FM.

The Grounds added that The Dark Knight is more violent than the first and third film in the trilogy. The first one, Batman Begins, was screened on Thursday, while the final film The Dark Knight Rises is scheduled for a November showing.

The second film is rated IIB – meaning not suitable for young persons and children – by OFNAA. The first and third have a lower IIA rating, or not suitable for children.

Responding to an HKFP enquiry, a spokesperson for OFNAA said it “would not comment on the application of individual films.”

‘A very solid system’

When The Dark Knight crew came to Hong Kong in 2007, authorities said the city “welcomed the filming of the latest Batman sequel.”

“Over the past year, the Government has been supporting and assisting the Batman crew in the preparatory work for shooting in Hong Kong, including the scouting of filming locations, overcoming numerous logistics challenges, and securing relevant permits for filming,” Maisie Cheng, the then-commissioner for television and entertainment licensing said.

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​Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Asked whether the banning of the Batman film was related to the national security law, Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung on Friday said he did not have much information about the incident as he had only just read about it in the news.

But he said authorities had “a very solid system” to evaluate “the categorisation or [whether] a film is suitable for screening for a certain occasion.”

Screenings of a number of political films have been barred after failing to pass the censors. In August, a film festival was forced to drop a short movie, Losing Side of a Longed Place, over a scene lasting under a second that depicted the Umbrella Movement.

And in June, a director pulled her film, The Dancing Voice of Youth, from a showcase after authorities said it contained “ungrounded statements” with potential to incite hatred against the government, and could not be screened unless changes were made.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.