Chinese fantasy movie The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Reality has been pulled from Chinese cinemas just days after its opening weekend due to charges that it had allegedly plagiarized scenes from Marvel Studio's Doctor Strange movie.
It seems the writer-director Guo Jingming had been up to his old tricks again. Guo has a reputation for plagiarizing other writers' works throughout his career. In fact, many people in China have charged that his entire career is based on plagiarism. He issued a public apology last Thursday for plagiarizing part of another author's work. Guo admitted he had copied Zhuang Yu's novel In and Out of the Circle for his bestselling novel 2003 Never Flowers in Never Dreams (which put him on Forbes' 2004 Chinese Celebrity List). A court ruled in 2006 that Guo had plagiarized Zhuang's work. Aside from paying compensation, Guo was ordered by the court to publicly apologise. Now, his new film, The Yin-Yang Master, an authorized adaptation of a Japanese novel, is being accused of copying scenes from Marvel Studio's Doctor Strange.
According to the South China Morning Post, Guo's apology comes after mounting pressure after 156 people from the TV and film industry signed a joint letter threatening to boycott Guo and another writer Yu Zheng for not admitting to their wrongdoings. It branded them "intellectual thieves" and condemned both writers for appearing on TV shows as industry luminaries to give professional guidance to young actors and actresses. They should never be made role models for future generations, it said. The letter generated a lot of buzz online and heavy coverage in Chinese media, including two in-depth reports from state news agency Xinhua last week.
The other reason Guo is apologizing now could partly be due to a new change in China's copyright and intellectual property laws. The Chinese government acknowledges that plagiarism is a big problem in books, television, and film, so the updated laws have made plagiarism an imprisonable offense. Many people on Chinese social media suspect he is only apologizing now – 14 years after the court ordered him to – because the industry is threatening to end his career. The new copyright laws might drag him back to court to be handed a prison sentence for not complying.
The Yin-Yang Master took 5th place in the weekend Chinese box office with a gross of $11.3 million, much lower than its $34.3 million debut. It now has a gross of $68 million since its Dec. 25 release. Netflix acquired rights to the film and will stream it in the rest of the world starting Feb. 5, just ahead of the lunar new year. Audiences worldwide will be able to see how much it plagiarized Doctor Strange then.