Screenings cancelled one day after release following anger over pun seen as racially offensive

The fantasy film Monster Hunter has been pulled from Chinese cinemas one day after its release after a scene where characters make a pun with the words “knees” and “Chinese” sparked offence.

The movie, based on the popular Capcom video game series, was released in China on Friday, weeks ahead of its planned US launch. However, cinemas quickly began cancelling screenings and refunding tickets after clips of the short scene spread across Chinese social media.

According to Variety, the offending clip depicts two characters, a white man and an Asian man, played by Jin Au-Yeung, driving together. Jin says “Look at my knees!”, to which the other character replies: “What kind of knees are these?” “Chi-nese!” jokes Jin.

The offence around the scene appeared to have two elements – that the dialogue was reminiscent of rhyming schoolyard racist taunts, and that the translation into Chinese had Jin saying something completely different. The subtitle appeared to avoid trying to translate an English pun, instead having him say: “Men have gold under their knees, and only kneel to the heavens and their mother,” but the total replacement suggested to some viewers that the film-makers were trying to cover up a racist joke.

On Weibo the hashtag “Monster Hunter taken down” was viewed more than 7.87m times, and the gaming company Capcom Asia reportedly sought to distance itself from the film.

Deadline reported China’s Tencent Pictures was working with Chinese authorities to edit the scene.

The controversy highlighted the difficulties for entertainment companies in navigating sensitivities in the enormous Chinese market, while also navigating the country’s strict censorship laws.

The film was produced by companies including Germany’s Constantin Films, and Tencent Pictures. Constantin Films issued a statement, saying it “sincerely apologises to Chinese audiences” for the line of dialogue.

“There was absolutely no intent to discriminate, insult or otherwise offend anyone of Chinese heritage.” It said it had “listened to the concerns expressed by Chinese audiences” and the line had been removed, but the online outrage continued.

“Apologies aren’t accepted, didn’t you think about it when you wrote the script … I don’t believe it … it must have been written on purpose,” said one. “This was a very bad case of racial discrimination, there is no misunderstanding,” wrote another.

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