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Hopper Stone - © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

10 Movies That Were Banned in China

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Hopper Stone - © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

China is the second largest movie market outside of the United States, so if a studio wants a movie to be a box office hit around the globe, it’s important to secure a release date in China. However, the country’s government only allows 34 foreign films to be released there each year (that number will reportedly increase in 2017), and there are very strict guidelines about what they will and will not allow in theaters. If a film doesn’t get approval, it’s officially banned throughout Mainland China. Here are 10 films that have suffered that fate.

1. GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Although Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot will be released in U.S. theaters this evening, the movie will not get a release in China due to the ghosts and other supernatural beings that appear in the film. The Chinese government and its censorship guidelines oppose any movies that "promote cults or superstition." Sony even attempted to skirt this issue by changing the title from Ghostbusters to what roughly translates to "Super Power Dare Die Team" for Chinese audiences. Clearly, it didn’t work.

2. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

The Chinese government banned Back to the Future because of its use of time travel and “disrespectful portrayal of history.” China’s censorship board banned any entertainment that deals with time travel back in 2011, when the theme was becoming very popular in TV shows and films throughout the country.

3. DEADPOOL (2016)

Deadpool was denied a theatrical release in China because of its bloody violence, nudity, and graphic language. 20th Century Fox actually tried to work with Chinese censorship authorities to clean up the film, but it was nearly impossible to cut around the film's graphic content without causing plot and story problems.

4. STAR WARS (1977)

Though The Force Awakens, the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise, proved to be a major hit at the Chinese box office, the original 1977 film wasn’t so lucky—mostly due to bad timing. Star Wars came out just a few months after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, who had refused to let any part of western culture make its way to China. A galaxy far, far away included.

5. AVATAR (2009)

Avatar was a huge hit in China—but only in 3D. The country's censors banned the 2D version of the James Cameron film due to its political undertones and themes of revolt. According to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, authorities banned the film for two reasons: “First, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from domestic films. And second, it may lead audiences to think about forced removal, and may possibly incite violence." Oddly, China did allow for a very limited run of the film’s 3D version (which, one would assume, did not cut into the box office of the other 2D films in release).

6. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

Rather than face an official rejection by Chinese authorities, Warner Bros. opted to cancel its screening of The Dark Knight for Chinese authorities, citing “cultural sensitivities in some elements of the film.” While that was all the studio said on the matter, The New York Times posited that they “may have been concerned that censors would be offended by scenes shot in Hong Kong, including those in which Batman nabs a gangster.”

7. THE DEPARTED (2006)

In 2006, Chinese censors banned the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, in which Boston gangsters attempt to sell computer and weapons technology to Chinese villains. In addition, authorities took offense to the suggestion that the Chinese government might use nuclear-powered weapons against Taiwan.

8. THE DA VINCI CODE (2006)

Although The Da Vinci Code passed Chinese censors and was released in theaters, the movie was abruptly removed and later banned from cinemas based on its controversial and blasphemous content surrounding the alleged daughter of Jesus of Nazareth. Chinese Catholic groups protested the release of the Ron Howard film, which led to its ban throughout the country.

9. NOAH (2014)

Government censors banned Darren Aronofsky’s Noah in theaters throughout Mainland China, as authorities were uneasy with the film’s religious themes and outlawed its release in the “defiantly secular” country.

10. TO LIVE (1994)

Lest you think China only has a thing against Hollywood movies: While To Live is a Chinese film that was made for Chinese audiences, the movie was banned in its homeland for its critical portrayal of the Chinese Communist government and their policies in the mid-1990s. Its director, Zhang Yimou, was also prohibited from making movies in China for two years. Despite its ban, To Live went on to be a critical darling around the world, and even received a Golden Globe nomination.

All images courtesy of YouTube.
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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