No Animal Harmed in the Making of This Film? Alleged Dog Abuse at Hengdian World Studios Angers Chinese Netizens
“No animal was harmed in the making of this film” is a standard message most viewers are used to seeing at the end of many movies, but in the case of this Chinese production, many netizens fear it is not the case.
Entertainment blogger and actor Ren Tao (任涛), who often posts behind-the-scenes videos, posted a clip and some photos on Weibo that allegedly exposed how a dog was purposely harmed during the filming of a costume drama at Hengdian World Studios (横店影视城) (see footage as posted by BJTime in embedded tweet below).
— What's on Weibo (@WhatsOnWeibo) May 9, 2019
The footage shows a Chinese rural dog on a film set. Tied to a chord from two sides, the dog is pulled behind a horse that lashes out with its hooves. The actor on the horse also seems to direct the horse to kick the little dog, which falls down on the floor multiple times.
A second clip shows the dog twitching on the floor, seemingly unable to get up, while various cast members are looking at it without doing anything.
Ren Tao wrote: “The small dog was kicked by the horse several times, and after the scene was shot the director was indifferent and left. How cold*!” *[lit. “Warmth or coldness is the way of the world.”]
Hengdian World Studios, founded in 1996, is known as the largest outdoor film and TV studio in the world.
Although the actor later removed his original post of May 7, it had already been reposted and picked up by various Weibo accounts, including that of a popular pet blogger, who wrote that the crew and cast showed “no humanity.”
The pet blogger also mentioned the existing agreements of American producers and filmmakers regarding the wellbeing of animals on the set. The American Humane Association is the organization that monitors productions and awards the “No Animals Were Harmed” end credit.
“Film and television works are meant to disseminate culture, not to seek after profits and becoming a slaughterhouse for animals,” the blogger wrote. (See the clip they posted in the embedded tweet below).
— What's on Weibo (@WhatsOnWeibo) May 9, 2019
The hashtag “Cast and Crew Abuse a Dog” (#剧组虐狗#) soon took off on Weibo, receiving over 15 million views.
Hundreds of commenters responded with anger, calling for a boycott of the production and condemning those involved.
Xiao Huang: Working Like a Dog
On May 8, the official account of the TV drama Held in the Lonely Castle (孤城闭) responded to the controversy with a lengthy statement and video, writing: “Today in our backstage area the news reached us of the online circulation of a video relating to “cast and crew members abusing a dog.””
The account states that the scene that was being filmed that day is from Feng Menglong’s “The Book of Horses and Dogs,” and that the dog that is featured in this scene is named ‘Xiao Huang,’ a “much-loved dog” who made a “guest appearance” in the drama.
The statement says that the horse and the dog were both tied to ropes to secure their position for the filming and to prevent them from running away. The staff controlling the ropes are there to make sure that the animals will not be hurt.
“Xiao Huang was not really kicked by the horse,” the post says, explaining that the rope was pulled at the same time the horse kicked, to make Xiao Huang trip and make it seem he was kicked. A fake horse leg was allegedly used for close-up scenes.
After the shooting was finished, the staff quickly calmed the horse and Xiao Huang, the post says.
About the video in which the actors look at the dog while it is falling down, seemingly injured, the statement says this scene was “important to the plot.” A veterinarian came to the set to put the dog under anesthesia beforehand, and the dog’s reaction was because of the after-effects of anesthesia – not because of being kicked by the horse.
The account post further says that the crew took care of the dog after the filming was completed, making sure it was ok until the anesthesia after-effects wore off, and then gave it food and let it play on the set.
“Xiao Huang was never injured and is well cared for,” the statement concludes: “Please respect the hard work of our crew and don’t spread rumors.”
The denial of the abuse became even bigger than the original story; the hashtag “‘Held in the Lonely Castle’ Cast & Crew Deny Dog Abuse” (#孤城闭剧组否认虐狗#) was viewed nearly 30 million times at the time of writing.
A Dog and Pony Show?
The TV drama production’s statement has led to many reactions online. “The horse and the dog are both such good actors, and the crew is very hardworking,” a typical comment on Weibo said.
Others praise Xiao Huang for his hard work, and condemn the rumors about animal cruelty, saying the working methods of the crew show great progress in China’s treatment of animals.
But some are still skeptical and say they do not believe the provided statement, believing that the denial of rumors was only staged to avert controversy and promote the TV drama.
One Weibo blogger shared slow-motion footage of the backstage video, showing that Xiao Huang was tossed around by the horse’s leg during shooting. It also shows redness and baldness in the dog’s neck area.
“Abuse is abuse,” the Weibo user writes, denouncing the treatment of the dog during shooting, and criticizing the fact that the dog was given anesthesia.
Cases of dog abuse often go viral on Chinese social media. In 2017, the killing of a pet dog by a neighborhood guard triggered many online calls for rapid implementation of animal welfare legislation in China.
In 2016, a group of animal welfare activists in Chengdu took the law into their own hands when they publicly beat up a man who abused his dog. Meanwhile, the annual Yulin Dog Meat festival seems to get more controversial by the year.
On Weibo, the Xiao Huang case is not over yet. While some netizens side with the production team, others refuse to believe the dog was not harmed.
“I think it’s sad for the dog either way,” some write. Meanwhile, the official page of the Held in the Lonely Castle TV drama posted another photo of ‘Xiao Huang,’ writing: “The most conscientious official is our best representative.”
By Manya Koetse
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