If there's one lingering sore point between Hollywood and China, it's Tibet.
For years, celebrity activists have annoyed Beijing by organizing charity concerts for Tibetan independence, shouting "Free Tibet" at awards ceremonies, and palling around with the Dalai Lama, whom the People's Republic regards as a "jackal" and "a wolf in sheep's clothing."
In 1997, studios released not one but two films about Tibet, both of which were promptly denounced by Chinese officials, who also banned Brad Pitt and Martin Scorsese from the country as punishment.
You would think, then, that the idea of a major studio collaborating with the Chinese government on a Tibet movie would not only be radioactive, but also absurd.
But such is the dependence of Hollywood on China now that the absurd has become real. Last month, DreamWorks Animation — makers of "Kung Fu Panda" — announced they were teaming up with the China Film Group, a state-owned company, to make "The Tibet Code."
The movie will be an adaptation of a best-selling series of potboiler books that feature a set of adventurers and Tibetan Mastiffs traipsing around the Himalayan landscape in search of hidden Buddhist treasures.
At the press conference, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg batted away suggestions that the film could be tainted by politics, saying that the studios would "find a course to tell a great story and not step on political issues." He stressed that it was simply a "blockbuster story" without any hidden motives.
The message from the Chinese side, which controls 55 percent of the deal, was a bit different. Han Sanping, chairman of the China Film Group, said that "The Tibet Code" would help broadcast Chinese culture, morals and values — a mission in line with Beijing's goal of burnishing its global image.
While Hollywood has increasingly bent over backward for access to China's growing box office, now the second largest in the world after the United States, the "Tibet Code" project marks a step into riskier territory.
Along with the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet is one of the most strictly controlled subjects in Chinese media. Coverage of the 100-plus Tibetan self-immolations is forbidden. The vision of Tibetan history presented in China is typically one of Han Chinese Communists liberating the region from brutality, feudalism and backwardness.
"China has its own made-up story when it comes to Tibetan history," says Michael Davis, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. "They claim that Tibet was a big happy part of China for hundreds of years, and most scholarship in the world outside of China disputes that."