Product Placement In Mission Impossible 3

The following is an article that appeared in Information Times (Part 1 and Part 2).

It should be noted that the article originally appeared as a Tianya forum post, and it was so interesting and popular that the mainstream newspaper Information Times carried it.

(Tianya Club)

[in translation]  

In the past two weeks, following the popularization of the movie Mission Impossible 3, the various Internet forums have been showing a screen capture from the movie -- in an exterior scene in the old part of Shanghai City, there were the letters "13347707266" painted on the wall just over Tom Cruise's left shoulder.

This author first noted this photo from a Tianya's photography forum titled "(News) Is Mission Impossible 3 damaging the image of greater Shanghai (China)?" from netizen "血染TOKYO" (2006-5-15 17:22:24).

A movie that cost US$150 million to produce had unintentionally provided free advertisement for a small-time advertiser.  This has been described as 'history's most awesome small advertisement' by netizens, which makes it pretty funny.  If the director of Mission Impossible 3, comrade J.J. Abrams, ever found out about this, will he be demanding an advertising fee from the owner of the telephone number?  We may never know that.

Since this author lives in Shanghai and he is a fan who likes the entertaining spirit of Mission Impossible 3, he decides to call the advertiser (who is obviously offering ID documents).

At around 8:30pm on May 26:
The author dials the number shown in the screen capture.  After a few rings, an adult male with a thick Hunan/Hubei accent picks up:
Owner: "Hello, who's this?"
Author: "... You ... do you provide documents?"
Owner: "Yes.  What kind of document?"
Author: "What is the price for an academic certificate? Citizen ID?  The old editions."
Owner: "Academic certificates are 300 yuan, citizen IDs are 200 yuan."
(blah blah blah etc.)
(After some negotiations, we settle upon a time and place of meeting the next day).

At 4:20pm on May 27:
The author dials the owner twice again.  No one is picking up.

Author's SMS to owner: "Boss, I'm the person who called you yesterday about documents.  Please pick up the phone."

The phone rings and connects.
Owner: "Where are you?"
Author: "I'm at the subway exit at Caobao road.  Where are you? When will you be here?
Owner: "Pudong.  Which train should I take to get to where you are?"
Author: "Number one line.  You get off at the Caobao line."
Owner: "I'll come over by public bus.  Let me check the bus routes."
The phone disconnects.
The phone rings and connects.
Owner: "I just checked.  I will take the 572 to Xujiahui district and meet you at Tianyueqiao road."
Author: "Fine.  I'm only three stops away."
Owner: "When I get there, I'll call you."
The phone disconnects.

Considering that the owner will take about 1 hour to get from Pudong to Xujiahui by public bus and there are only three stops between Xujiahui and Caobao road, there is enough time for me to have a drink at the KFC near the subway entrance to calm my nerves.  Damn!  This will the first time that I ever do this type of thing.  This type of contact may be good enough for the sequel Mission Impossible 4.  Damn, I forgot to ask him about a secret codeword when we meet!  So it looks like I am really not experienced in this sort of thing ...

After spending half an hour at the KFC and calming myself down with two cups of cola, I am more serene.  I get on the 92 bus to go to Xujiahui.

The bus is near Xujiahui.  The telephone rings.  The voice on the telephone does not sound like the previous one, but it is still someone with a Hunan/Hubei accent.  It is noisy on the bus.  No time to think.  So I ask him to meet me at the food mall.

The rings again.
Owner: "Where are you?  I am waiting for you in front of the Mengguwang Hotel."
Author: "I've just arrived at the plaza entrance.  I'll be there.  Don't hang up."
One minute later, I am at the entrance of the Mengguwang Hotel.  A small and skinny young man appears before the author.  He could not be older than 16 years old.  He looks a bit shy.
Author: "This isn't right.  The person that I took my call in the afternoon was a middle-aged person?"
Owner: "Hmm .. that was our boss.  He's busy.  He asked me to come."
The young man has a cunning gleam in his eyes.

The author is slightly disappointed, but he will take things as they come.  At least, he can extract some information.  It is getting dark and near dinner time.  So I take him to a restaurant and we order some dishes plus beer.  We start to chat while we eat and drink.  After some beers, we are getting along pretty well.  We begin to talk about the details of the documents, which is the main purpose of the meeting.

Author: "When you advertise, do you hand out cards or do you spray-paint the telephone number on walls?"
Owner: "Both."
Author: "Can you guess where I found out your telephone number?"
Owner: "Where?"
Author: "I found it from a picture on the Internet.  The picture came from a movie ..."
Owner: "Mission Impossible?"
Author: "... How did you know?"
Owner: "I knew that a couple of weeks ago.  At that time, there were dozens of calls every day, but these people were not looking for documents.  My dad was annoyed and often turned the phone off, or else he let me take them."
Author: "Your dad?"
Owner: "Yes.  The telephone number is my dad's.  But usually it is used by whoever wants to use it.  Recently, I have been using it more often.  My dad could not be bothered, because most of the calls were not business-related."
Author: "Who is calling?  Where do they call from?  What are they asking about?"
Owner: "All sorts of people.  The telephone numbers are from outside Shanghai.  Most of them first ask about getting documents, and then they either go silent or else they start to giggle.  Some of them tell me that they call the number because it was shown in Mission Impossible 3."
Author: "It must be annoying to get those phone calls every day."
Owner: "It is annoying.  Fuck!  Sometimes I get mad and I curse them out.  Anyway, they won't understand when I curse in my local dialect.  Hehehe ..."
Author: "How much is the telephone bill?"
Owner: "Fortunately, it does not cost anything to receive calls, or else we are screwed.  But it is annoying enough.  Fuck!  Someone even called after 3am last night.  None of them wanted business.  My dad is about to abandon this number, since it is not bringing in business anyway."
Author: "Damn.  Did you know that it costs more than US$100 million to make that movie, or about 1 billion yuan.  If you want to advertise in it, it will cost you over a million yuan."
Owner: "Hey, who knows?  We did not let him film it.  If they happened to show it, what can be done?"
Author: "What happens if people continue to call this number?"
Owner: "What can I do?  Sometimes, I will turn off the machine and refuse to take calls.  I will only accept calls from previous clients.  Or I will dump this telephone number.  We have other numbers anyway."
Author: "This number is famous now.  Maybe someone will offer a high price for it.  Would you sell it?"
Owner: "It'll be up to my dad."
Author: "Did any journalist call you up?"
Owner: "Yes.  A number from outside Shanghai kept showing up repeatedly.  I have no idea how many times I've cursed the guy out.  I am not picking up right now."
Author: "What happens if a journalist asks to interview you?"
Owner: "I wouldn't talk to them.  This is not a good thing, and there is no business."
Author: "I asked you out today out of curiosity and fun, but I am not a journalist.  Do you mind?"
Owner: "No problem.  It is pure chat anyway.  But you will have to treat me for this dinner.  All you have to do is give me the deposit money for the documents."

The young man can drink, and we put away six bottles of beer together.  I paid and we left.  In an isolated corner, I gave him the deposit for the documents.  We exchanged QQ numbers and I walked him to the 572 bus stop.  Then we waved goodbye to each other.

P.S. Many interesting things in this world happen by coincidence.  An unintended scene led to an interesting story that attracted many netizens, but also created some problems for the telephone number owner.  Fortunately, this person took the whole thing calmly.  All movies must end eventually and even the best movies will not be interesting in every scene.  Life must be like this too, for who knows what interesting or uninteresting things will happen next?  Life goes on, and all these interesting or uninteresting things are just interludes.

(Los Angeles Times)  Ad Slips Past Authorities Like a Fake ID.  By Don Lee.  June 21, 2006.

Chinese censors recently delayed the release of "Mission: Impossible III" because they didn't want to air the city's dirty laundry.  But the sharp-eyed film police apparently missed a more obvious smear, a crude advertisement for one of China's most notorious businesses: producing fake documents.

Now, Internet mavens across the Middle Kingdom are tsk-tsking at the censors' bumble. Some have clipped the fleeting scene from a pirated download of the movie which won't be released in China until next month and posted it on the Web, generating guffaws in chat rooms.

That's painful for Shanghai officials, who go to great lengths to burnish the city's image. The eastern metropolis boasts of being home to the world's fastest train and is building the tallest office tower and 100 museums, even if many of them will remain empty.  So it came as no surprise when censors held up the Tom Cruise thriller, which was partly filmed in Shanghai, to snip a high-speed car chase because censors didn't want the Chinese people to see mayhem in the streets.

But near the end of the flick, Cruise runs along a river bend, cellphone in hand. He glides past a white wall emblazoned with an 11-digit mobile phone number and Chinese characters below it: ban zheng, colloquial for "Make fake documents."

Such "businesses" produce false licenses, certificates and IDs and are as ubiquitous in Shanghai as laundry hanging outside apartment windows.  "If you're filming in the streets of China, it'd be fake if you didn't see such business ads," read a posting from Hubei province.

"Mr. Ba," owner of the infamous mobile phone number, says he has been bombarded by thousands of calls from curious people and Internet sleuths, who have pinpointed the number to nearby Jiangsu province. But not too many are placing orders for fake documents with Ba, who seemed desperate for fewer prank calls and some real business.  "I've received many strange calls from people who just chuckle and don't say anything and then hang up," Ba said. "Some people called and asked to buy my number."  He then added: "I can give you a discount."

(Shanghai Daily)  Film censors miss an ad.  By Dong Zhen.  June 20, 2006.

In trying to sanitize Shanghai's image, the film censors scrutinizing "Mission: Impossible III" missed a phone number for phony documents that China netizens trumpeted.

But by the July 20 release date, that's likely to be wiped out by the censors who want to put Shanghai's best foot forward.

One shot the censors initially missed was a scene of protagonist Tom Cruise running past a wall with a poster promoting sale of counterfeit documents - identification papers, college degrees, business papers, drivers' licenses - you name it.

It was part of the local color and reality in downtown city streets.

The fleeting scene was an embarrassing reminder of the rampant illegal sales of bogus documents for any underachiever or pretender.

Media reports said other aspects of the film were embarrassing - the police being inept and slow to respond to emergencies, and the common practice of hanging laundry to dry on poles outside of windows.

It was not known whether laundry or police scenes would be cut for not exemplifying cosmopolitan Shanghai.

But local media reports about the illegal document business have created a buzz. The number, a virtual hotline was "live" yesterday - a sign of the demand for fake documents and new identities.

In an early unofficial screening of the action thriller, someone spotted the illegal ad pasted on a wall. On May 28, it was posted on, showing a scene in which the phone number was visible as Cruise ran past.

Netizens disseminated it widely. The mobile phone number was swamped. One caller to the number told a local newspaper that he claimed he wanted a fake document, and met a low-level worker answering the phone.

The man said he was swamped with calls, many from people who simply wanted to find out if the number was real.