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An Overview of Chinese Nominations at Busan Film Festival (Part II)

Three Chinese blockbusters & two films touching upon gender issues; these Chinese films at Busan are definitely worth watching.

Gabi Verberg

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Image from 'Ash is the Purest White'

From Chinese dissident filmmakers to government-funded films, you can find it all at Busan, Asia’s biggest film festival. In the weeks leading up to the event, What’s on Weibo’s Gabi Verberg provides an overview of the Chinese nominees. This week: Part II (See Part I here).

On the 4th of October, the 23th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea will roll out its red carpet to open this year’s film festival season in Asia. With the screening of 323 films from 79 countries, it is one of Asia’s biggest international film festivals, with China as one of the main suppliers of films.

This week, we will introduce to you to the second batch of the Chinese nominees.

 

1. Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (Yèwèn Wàizhuàn: Zhāngtiānzhì 叶问外传:张天志)

Mainland China/Hong Kong
Genre: Action
Selected in the category: Opening Night Film
Director: Woo-ping Yuen (袁和平)
Weibo Hashtag: #张天志# (19.600.000+ views)
Premiere: October 2018, Busan International Film Festival

Starring: Max Zhang (张晋), Dave Bautista (戴夫·巴蒂斯塔), Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼), Tony Jaa (托尼·贾), Chrissie Chaw (周秀娜)

About the Director:

Woo-ping Yuen was born in 1945, making him the oldest nominated Chinese director at this years’ Busan Film Festival. In 1978, Woo-ping Yuen was recognized by the film industry for the first time for his works Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (Shé xíng diāo shǒu 蛇形刁手) and Drunken Master (Zuì quán 醉拳).

With Jackie Chan starring as the male protagonist in Drunken Master, the film was nominated for the Golden Horse awards at the Taiwan International Film Festival. In the 40 years that followed, Woo-ping Yuan’s films received numerous nominations and awards at film festivals all over the world.

His most famous contributions to film are as the action director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill: vol.2, and as a Kung-fu choreographer for the film The Matrix.

Storyline:

This spinoff focuses on Cheung Tin Chi (a pivotal character from Ip Man 3, played by Zhang), who has been defated by Ip Man and had his house burned down to the ground. He decides to seek shelter on Bar Street, where he quickly finds solace from his neighbors. But when Tin Chi discovers a gang is peddling drugs on Bar street, he takes it upon himself to intervene and gets into a fight with a powerful foreign villain.

Check out the trailer with English subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The main actors are internationally renowned. Michelle Yeoh showed off her beautiful martial arts skills in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Max Zhang’s showed his mastery of wushu in films such as The Grandmaster and Ip Man 3.

On their website, the organization of the Busan International Film Festival calls the film “dazzling, gripping, and an astonishingly action-driven film that will satisfy the audiences who are looking for great action scenes especially on a big screen.” They also call it one of the “most essential martial art films” that Hong Kong has ever seen.

 

2. The Island (Yīchū Hǎoxì 一出好戏)

China Mainland
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Selected in the category: : A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Bo Huang (黄渤)
Premiere: 10th August 2018

Starring: Bo Huang (黄渤), Qi Shu (舒淇),Baoqiang Wang (王宝强),Yixing Zhang (张艺兴), Hewei Yu (于和伟), Xun Wang (王迅), Qinqin Li (李勤勤), You-lin Li (李又麟 ), Hao Ning (宁浩), Hu Guan (管虎), Jing Liang (梁静), Zheng Xu (徐峥), Teddy Chan (陈德森), Lei Zhang (张磊)

About the Director:

Bo Huang is one of China’s most famous comic actors. Except for acting, he is also a singer, tv host, choreographer, and now a film director. Over the last decade, he received nominations for his acting at almost every big Asian Film Festival, such as the Hong Kong Film Festival or the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. As an actor, Bo Huang starred in, among others, Journey to the West (Xīyóu Jiàngmópiān 西游降魔篇), No Man’s Land (Wúrénqū 无人区), and My Dearest.. The Island is Huang Bo’s first work as a director.

Storyline:

News of a meteorite coming towards the earth doesn’t seem to affect Ma Jin’s everyday life, as he goes about his days; going to work, obsessing over his pretty colleague, and even winning a grand prize lottery during his company’s team-building cruise. But Ma Jin’s life is about to drastically change, bringing him and his collegues to a deserted island, where they have to remake the world as they know it. This story is a surprisingly funny but critical fable of modern society.

See the trailer with English subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The film is already worth watching for its beautiful locations and its spectacular special effects. But another reason to watch the film is for the interaction between Bo Huang and his cast. For the production of The Island, Bo Huang’s budget seemed to be endless, allowing him to freely select his cast. As a consequence, almost all of his cast members are former colleagues. For the film Mr. Six (Lǎopào’er 老炮儿), Bo Huang worked with Hu Guan, Jing Liang, Hewei Ju, Hao Ning, and Yi Zhang, who are now all also featuring in The Island.

The Island is the 29th highest-grossing film in China of all time, with a total gross of 1.343 billion yuan ($195+ million).

 

3. Ash is the Purest White (Jiānghú érnǚ 江湖儿女)

China Mainland/France
Genre: Romance, Crime
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Zhangke Jia (贾樟柯)
Premiere: 11th May 2018, Cannes Film Festival
Weibo Hashtag: #江湖儿女# (44.860.000+ views)

Starring: Tao Zhao (赵涛), Fan Liao (廖凡), Zheng Lu (徐峥), Casper Liang (梁嘉艳), Xiaogang Feng (冯小刚), Yi’nan Diao (刁亦男), Yibai Zhang (张一白), Jiali Ding (丁嘉丽), Yi Zhang (张译), Zijian Dong (董子健), Jiamei Feng (冯家妹), Xuan Li (李宣)

Note:According to some news sources, Xiaogang Feng has been edited out of the movie. The film showed at the Toronto Film Festival was five minutes shorter than the film showed at the Cannes Film Festival in May earlier this year. Xiaogang Feng is alleged of tax evasion and having close ties with actress Fan Bingbing, who hasn’t been seen in public since July first after also being accused of tax evasion.

About the Director:

The award-winning Zhangke Jia is one of China’s most famous film directors. His debut feature film, The Pickpocket (Xiǎowǔ 小武), won the International Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998. Ever since, Zhangke Jia is one of the few Asian directors to be a regular at the big international film festivals such as Venice Film Festival, where he won three prices and was nominated five times, or Cannes, where Jia won one award and was nominated five times. Among Zhangke Jia’s significant works are movies such as The World (Shìjiè 世界), I Wish I Knew (Hǎishàng chuánqí 海上传奇), A Touch of Sin (Tiān zhùdìng 天注定) or Mountains May Depart
(Shānhé Gùrén 山河故人).

Last year, the very first edition of the ‘Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival’ (平遥国际电影展), an initiative by Zhangke Jia, was held successfully. The film festival celebrates the latest achievements in international cinema and promotes the work of young Chinese directors. The second edition of this festival will be held in October of this year.

Storyline:

This movie, set in China’s underworld, tells the story of love and betrayal between gangster Bin and dancer Qiao. The two lovers have a very strong emotional connection, but their love is severely tested when Qiao winds up going to prison after a violent altercation in which she tried to protect her gangster boyfriend.

See the trailer with Chinese subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The Guardian awarded the film four out of five stars calling it an “glorious drama” which feels like a “gripping parable for the vanity of human wishes, and another impassioned portrait of national malaise.” Variety called the film a “gangster epic.”

Another reason to watch the film is its outstanding cast. The two protagonists are played by award-winning actress and director’s muse Tao Zhao (赵涛) and Fan Liao (廖凡). The latter won the Berlin Golden Bear Award, which is the highest prize awarded for the best film at the Berlin International Film Festival; The Golden Horse Award at the Taipei International Film Festival for best actor, and the award for best actor at the Singapore International Film Festival.

 

4. My Dear Friend (Hǎoyǒu 好友)

Mainland China
Genre: Drama
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Pingdao Yang (杨平道)
Reads on Weibo: 35.000 (#抵达之谜#)
Premiere: 2016

Starring: Starring: Gabby So (蘇子情), Robert Loh

About the Director:

Pingdao Yang is a relatively unknown independent director and screenwriter. His works have appeared at dozens of domestic and international film festivals, and he has won several independent film awards.

Other works from Pingdao Yang are Spring of Yangchun (Yángchūn zhī Chūn 阳春之春), One Day As Usual (Guānyú Zhāng Kēzhǎng de Rìcháng 关于张科长的日常), My Family Tree (Jiāpǔ 家谱); and feature films E Huang Mountain (Éhuángzhàng Yìshì 鹅凰嶂逸事) and The River of Life (Shēngmìng de Héliú 生命的河流).

Storyline:

In a remote village of southern China where spring mist lays, A city woman travels to a remote village in southern China to look for her missing boyfriend. Instead of fining him, she discovers a 60-year-long secret friendship between two elderly men.

This film comes twelve years after the debut of the short film Spring of Yangchun , that came out in 2006. That film also tells about the love between two men; after one of the men’s girlfriends unexpectedly passes away, he reunites with his old-time friend who just got back from the army – the two still have issues to resolve.

Spring of Yangchun

(The 2006 short film is available online with Chinese subtitles here.)

Why you should watch it:

Despite the fact that the film was released almost two years ago, Busan Film Festival still wants it to be part of the category A Window on Asian Cinema; a noteworthy fact that says much about the film’s quality. It is also the only Chinese film in Busan of which the topic is related to homosexuality.

 

5. The Rib (Yàdāng de Zhùgǔ 亚当的助骨)

Mainland China
Genre: Drama
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Wei Zhang (张唯)
Weibo Reads: 340.000 (#撞死了一只羊#)
Premiere: 4th September 2018, Venice International Film Festival

Starring: Jingyi Huang (黄精一), Wejie Yuan (源唯杰), Hao Meng (孟浩)

About the Director:

Wei Zhang is an independent filmmaker whose work focuses on the lives of people living in the margins of society. For that reason, among others, his work is closely followed by western film media and film festivals.

Zhang’s previous films include Factory Boss (Dǎgōng lǎobǎn 打工老板), a story about an entrepreneur who desperately takes on low margin jobs to save his business; Destiny (Xǐhé 喜禾)a tale of an autistic boy and his struggling mother; and The Sound of Dream (Tiānlài mèngxiǎng 天籁梦想), a film about four visually impaired Tibetan children whose dream it is to appear on a TV talent show.

Wei Zhang’s films received multiple nominations and won a number of awards, including Best Original Script at the Iranian Fajr International Film Festival, and Most Innovative Film Award at the Asia-Pacific art unit of the Venice Film Festival in Shanghai.

Storyline:

The Rib is based on a collection of true stories, and depicts a Chinese transgender teenager who grows up in a devout Christian family. One day, he tells his parents he wants to undergo surgery to become a woman, and he asks for his parents’ consent. It is the start of a tumultuous story that shows a new side of Chinese society.

Why you should watch it:

According to Variety, this “bold drama” is likely to become “a groundbreaking production for China.”

In choosing a topic such as this, Wei Zhang has indeed made a bold move, especially considering that previous years have seen an online ban on video content relating to homosexuality. According to ScreenDaily, the filmmaker was very grateful to have obtained permission from the Chinese government to shoot the film, and hopes that his work will have a positive influence on society.

Stayed tuned for more! Meanwhile, also check out part 1 of Chinese films at Busan, and our must-see Chinese film list of 2017 here.

By Gabi Verberg

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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China Celebs

“A Good Day” – Kris Wu Sentenced to 13 Years in Prison

The first woman who came forward to accuse Kris Wu in 2021 celebrated his sentencing in a livestream.

Manya Koetse

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The Chinese-Canadian fallen celebrity Kris Wu, better known as Wu Yifan (吴亦凡) in China, has been dominating Chinese social media discussions after a preliminary court ruling came out in the criminal case in which Wu was accused of rape and other sex crimes.

On November 25, the Beijing Chaoyang district court found Wu guilty of raping three women in his home in 2020 and of “gathering people to commit adultery.” He was sentenced to 13 years in prison followed by deportation.

Kris Wu is a 32-year old rapper, singer, and actor who was born in Guangzhou and moved to Vancouver with his mother at the age of ten. Wu also spent a part of his high school years in Guangzhou, but he holds a Canadian passport. He became famous as a member of the K-pop band Exo and later started a solo career.

As an actor, he starred in several award-winning movies. He also starred in Sweet Sixteen, a movie in which Wu ironically plays the role of someone getting jailed for shooting a rapist.

The 19-year-old student Du Meizhu (都美竹) was the first to accuse Wu of predatory behavior online in 2021, with at least 24 more women also coming forward claiming the celebrity showed inappropriate behavior and had pressured young women into sexual relationships. As the scandal unfolded, various hashtags related to the story received billions of views on Weibo. Wu was formally arrested on suspicion of rape in mid-August 2021.

On Friday, Meizhu posted “Finally [I’ve waited for this]” on her social media account. She also briefly joined a livestream in which she celebrated the sentencing and played the song “A Good Day” (“好日子”).

On Weibo, the hashtag “Wu Yifan Gets 13 Years” [13 years prison sentence in preliminary ruling] (#吴亦凡一审被判13年#) received nearly 1,8 billion views on Friday.

Noteworthy enough, the Kris Wu hashtag was also being used by netizens to discuss the tragic Urumqi fire which was also a major trending topic on the same day.

Some speculated that the media attention for the Kris Wu case was being used to overshadow the Urumqi news. Others condemned social media users for turning to celebrity news instead of focusing on the tragic fire in Xinjiang’s capital.

At the same time, there was also a running joke on social media in light of China’s ongoing ‘zero Covid’ policy, with people saying: “Who will come out first, Kris Wu or us?”

By Manya Koetse 

Featured image: Kris Wu starring in Sweet Sixteen movie.

 

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Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Brands & Marketing

China’s XR Development 101: How Chinese Tech Giants are Navigating Towards the Metaverse

Chinese tech giants are massively investing in virtual reality and in the technologies that are building up the Chinese metaverse.

Jialing Xie

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Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality technologies are blurring the lines between the real and digital worlds and are powering the metaverse. Chinese tech giants are at the forefront of the latest developments on the mainland market, including XR, that are making the metaverse possible. Time for a round-up of what China’s key players are focusing on and which virtual initiatives are already live.

2021 is the year in which the concept of ‘metaverse’ has blossomed. In March of last year, the hugely successful online multiplayer game and game creation system Roblox went public with a market value of over $41 billion at the time, earning its reputation as the world’s first metaverse IPO.

Following the release of the 2021 sci-fi comedy Free Guy – which is set in a fictional metaverse-like video game, – and Facebook’s rebranding to ‘Meta’ last fall, ‘metaverse’ became one of the hottest buzzwords on the internet.

The term metaverse is actually decades old. In the 1981 novel True Names, the American computer scientist Vernor Steffen Vinge already envisioned a virtual world that could be accessed through a brain-computer interface, and the term ‘metaverse’ was first mentioned in the 1992 Snow Crash science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson.

Now, 5G, AI, VR, Blockchain, 3D modeling, and other new technologies converged on the concept of the metaverse industry are seeing an explosive growth in China.

At the recent 20th Party Congress, it became clear once again that the digital economy is key in China’s long-term strategies, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping promoting digitalization as one of the new “engines” of future growth.

 
About Metaverse (元宇宙) in China
 

In Chinese, ‘metaverse’ is referred to as yuányǔzhòu (元宇宙), which is a literal translation of ‘meta-verse’ – meaning ‘transcending universe’ (超越宇宙). Chinese tech sources also describe the year 2021 as “the metaverse year” (元宇宙元年).

Metaverse is a collective, shared virtual realm that can interact with the real world and where people can interact with each other and the spaces around them. There is not just one single metaverse – there can be many digital living spaces referred to as the ‘metaverse.’

Metaverse is a fluid concept or virtual experience that is still developing and due to the differences in cyber regulations, digital ecosystems, and strict control on online information flows, the Chinese metaverse will unquestionably be very different from the metaverse spheres that companies such as Facebook are working on.

The metaverse is made possible through a wide range of technologies including AI, IoT, Blockchain, Interaction Technology, computer games, and network computing. XR is key to the rise of the metaverse. XR, or Extended Reality, is an umbrella term for a range of immersive technologies including VR (Virtual Reality 虚拟现实), AR (Augmented Reality 增强现实), and MR (Mixed Reality 混合现实). A 2020 Deloitte report suggests that the global XR market consists of mainly VR technologies (48% of market share), followed by AR (34%) and MR (18%).

In December of 2020, Tencent’s CEO Ma Huateng (马化腾) announced the concept of the “All-real Internet” (全真互联网) in a special internal publication regarding the company’s growth and major changes. Ma proposed that the deep integration of the virtual and real world, the “All-real Internet,” is the future opportunity to focus on as the next stage of the (mobile) internet. Although there are some subtle differences, Ma’s idea of the “All-real Internet” overlaps with the concept of the metaverse.

The metaverse, XR, and related technologies are not just a hot issue for Chinese tech companies, they are also an important theme for Chinese authorities. The 20th Party Congress was by no means the first time for China’s leadership to stress the country’s focus on the latest digital innovations. In October 2021, President Xi Jinping also spoke about evolving China’s digital economy during the 19th CPC Central Committee. He asserted that one of the focal points within the development strategy of China’s digital economy is the further integration of digital technologies and real-world economies.

This idea was further clarified in the outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the State Council at the end of 2021, which listed VR and AR as one of the seven key industries of China’s digital economy along with cloud computing, IoT, AI, and others.

Subsequently, many local governments incorporated metaverse (“元宇宙”) and related relevant terms into their respective 14th Five-Year Plans. For example, Shanghai authorities stated it will focus on the further developments of industries related to quantum computing, 3rd-gen semiconductors, 6G communications, and metaverse.

Here, we will provide an overview of XR industry development in present-day China, going over the key players Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT) along with the younger Chinese tech giant ByteDance. We provide an overview of what they are investing in, what their respective strategies are when it comes to XR, and give examples of the kind of initiatives that they have already launched. To limit the scope of this article, we have left out Netease, Huawei, Bilibili, and some other relevant Chinese players for now (we might still make a part two later on!).

 

Key Players and Strategies

 

 

▶︎ BAIDU

 

As one of the leading artificial intelligence (AI) and internet companies in the world, Baidu specializes in internet and AI-related products and services. Baidu is mostly known as China’s number one search engine, but its ambitions go far beyond that. “We want to be like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the metaverse,” Ma Jie (马杰), vice president at Baidu, recently said.

The company has taken a special interest in building the infrastructure to support metaverse-related projects, deviating from the strategies that focus more on the XR-related content development and distribution that you see at Tencent or Bytedance.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ iQiyi (爱奇艺), one of China’s top media streaming platforms (sometimes also referred to as the ‘Chinese Netflix’), released its all-in-one virtual reality headset ‘Adventure Dream’ in December 2021 powered by Snapdragon XR2. Baidu owns 53% of iQiyi and holds more than 90% of its shareholder voting rights.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ Baidu launched the ‘Baidu VR Browser’ on July 15, 2016, becoming China’s first browser powered by webVR technology.

Xirang

◼︎ In 2017, Baidu launched ‘Baidu VR’ platform, which is now offering a wide range of VR-related software and hardware products and services, including the Baidu VR Headset, VR Creation Center, AI app, and XiRang (希壤), which is referred to as China’s “first metaverse platform.”

 

What’s Live?

 

 
Retail

◼︎ In 2018, Baidu VR and UXin Limited, a Chinese online used car marketplace, jointly developed VR 360° interior panoramas that put viewers in the driver’s seat to see how interior details come together and to better understand the details of each vehicle such as scratches, wheels and engine models.

◼︎ Baidu’s ‘Meta Ziwu’ (元宇宙誌屋Meta ZiWU), a virtual space within XiRang, hosts various fashion shows for international brands. In August of 2022, Italian luxury fashion house Prada livestreamed its Fall 2022 collection within the interactive realms of ‘Meta Ziwu,’ and so did Dior, the French fashion house which has also launched its first-ever metaverse exhibition “On the Road” (在路上) via Meta Ziwu.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In late 2021, Baidu launched its metaverse project XiRang (希壤, ‘the land of hope’) as “the first Chinese-made metaverse product.” In December, Baidu held ‘Baidu Create 2021′, a three-day annual developers’ conference in a virtual world generated by the XiRang platform, hosting 100,000 people on one set of servers at the same time. Baidu’s Vice President Ma Jie, also Head of the Metaverse XiRang project, shared that the main goal behind this project is to lay the infrastructure of the metaverse by providing developers and content creators with the tools to build their metaverse projects.

Chinese architect Ma Yansong (马岩松), founder of MAD architects, also works together with Meta Ziwu as a virtual architect.

 

▶︎ALIBABA

 

Founded in 1999, Alibaba is one of the world’s largest e-commerce and cloud computing companies in Asia Pacific. Its massive success in e-commerce also established Alibaba’s leading position in artificial intelligence and other key technologies that have supported e-commerce, as well as in the future of metaverse.

As one of the biggest venture capital firms and investment corporations in the world, Alibaba struck several deals with prominent XR companies including Magic Leap and Nreal to gain footing in the Extended Reality industry.

As for R&D, Alibaba’s ambition in becoming the world’s fifth-largest economy led to a strong emphasis on technological research and XR-focused innovation and the founding of DAMO Academy.

Within the field of XR, Alibaba primarily focuses on two aspects: underlying technology solutions (e.g. cloud computing) and XR application in its own core business model (e-commerce).

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ In February 2016 and October 2017, Alibaba led the investment rounds in Magic Leap, an augmented reality firm headquartered in Florida.

◼︎ In March of this year, Alibaba led a $60 million investment round of Beijing-based augmented reality glasses maker Nreal. Nreal, founded in 2017, has since launched two AR glasses for the Chinese market: Nreal X for developers and content creators and Nreal Air for regular consumers. Nreal Air glasses have been released in Japan and the UK in February and May of this year. In addition to AR glasses, Nreal also cooperated with iQiyi, China Mobile Migu, Weilai, and Kuaishou to develop AR content.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ In March 2016, Alibaba announced its own VR research lab, GM LAB ( ‘GnomeMagic’ Lab), which aims to power its e-commerce platform and other subsidiary businesses such as the VR content production for its film and music platforms.

◼︎ Alibaba registered several metaverse-related trademarks, including “Ali Metaverse.”

◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba’s DAMO Academy, a global research program in cutting-edge technologies, launched ‘X Lab’ that focuses on research in key areas related to the metaverse industry, including quantum computing, XR, and xG Technology. Tan Ping (谭平), the former Head of XR Lab, shared several of their ongoing projects at the time. One example he mentioned is the virtual character Xiaomo (小莫), who is very versatile and can, among other things, convert textual information into sign language to enable smoother communication for the hearing impaired.

Xiaomo by Alibaba can turn spoken text into sign language.

‘X Lab’ is also experimenting with making history come alive through virtual initiatives. Recently, Alibaba’s cloud gaming platform Yuanjing made it possible for visitors at their Alibaba Cloud’s Apsara conference to virtually visit the Xi’an Museum and check out its artifacts via mobile phone or laptop, or to have an immersive experience of the Tang dynasty’s imperial palace complex, powered by automatic 3D space creation and visual localization technology.

 

What’s Live?

 

eCommerce

◼︎ In November 2016, Alibaba launched the Mobile BUY+ feature in Taobao mobile apps in light of its annual Single’s Day Global Shopping Festival. With VR headsets and the app, China-based Taobao shoppers could experience shopping in-store at Target, Macy’s, or Costco in the US and other malls located in countries such as Japan and Australia.

◼︎ As Alibaba constantly keeps innovating its e-commerce landscape, its research institute DAMO Academy, in collaboration with its licensing platform Alifish, rolled out an XR-powered marketplace on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Tmall and Taobao for its November 2022 Single’s Day festival that allows consumers to visit virtual shopping streets and shop for merchandise as their own customizable avatars.

Entertainment

◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba led a $20 million Series A financing round of DGene, a virtual reality and immersive entertainment developer. Among others, DGene creates digital influencers or can even recreate historical figures based on its AI-driven technologies.

Dong Dong was launched as the first virtual brand ambassador for the Winter Olympics in 2022.

◼︎ For the Olympic Winter Olympics in 2022, Alibaba launched Dong Dong, a digital persona developed by Damo Academy using cloud-based digital technologies. Dong Dong was able to engage with fans and online viewers through livestreams, respond to questions in real time, and she even hosted online talkshows.

 

▶︎TENCENT

 

As a multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate with the highest-grossing revenue in the world, Tencent has the financial resources to gain an upper hand in technological innovation through acquisition and investment. In 2021 alone, Tencent made a total of 76 investments in Gaming, accounting for 25.2% of Tencent’s total investment throughout the year – a 9.3% increase compared to 2020. Tencent is now the biggest gaming company in the world.

Tencent also ramped up the company’s total headcount working in R&D department by 41%, accounting for 68% of its total workforce in 2021.

Although XR is used to create immersive experiences in different industries including healthcare, manufacturing, or education, its primary fields are still gaming and social – which just so happen to be Tencent’s main focus areas. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Tencent, as the country’s Gaming & Social giant, has made XR part of its core business.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ In 2012, Tencent made an investment in Epic Games, the owner of Unreal Engine which powers well-known video games such as Fortnite, purchasing approximately 40% of the total Epic capital, making it the second largest shareholder. Epic Games’ major businesses span across RT3D game engine (Unreal), in-house developed games (Fortnite), and platform games. This investment is one of the reasons why Tencent conquered a leading position in the metaverse realm when it comes to games.

◼︎ As early as 2014, Tencent already tapped into the VR market by investing in social VR platform AltspaceVR, which was later acquired by Microsoft in 2017.

◼︎ In May 2019, Tencent and Roblox announced a joint venture in which Tencent holds a 49% controlling stake.

◼︎ In September of 2021, Tencent became the new investor behind Beijing-based VR game developer Vanimals (威魔纪元), known for its flagship games Undying and Eternity Warriors VR.

◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent joined the $82M Series D fundraising of Ultraleap, the world leader in mid-air haptics and 3D hand tracking. Ultraleap’s hand-tracking platform has been built into multiple platforms including Qualcomm’s XR and VR devices.

◼︎ In March 2022, Tencent invested in the Chinese AR glasses manufacturer SUPERHEXA (蜂巢科技) holding 7.3% of its shares.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ In 2015, Tencent announced its avant-garde VR Project ‘Tencent VR,’ a plan consisting of building its own VR games and releasing Tencent Virtual reality software development kits (VR SDKs) to support other VR game developers.

◼︎ As of September 2021, Tencent applied for registration of nearly 100 trademarks related to the metaverse, including “Tencent Music Metaverse” (腾讯音乐元宇宙).

◼︎ In June 2022, Tencent officially set up its XR department led by its Interactive Entertainment Division (IEG) game developer NExT Studios. During Tencent’s annual gaming conference SPARK 2022, the Head of IEG, Ma Xiaoyi (马晓轶), shared Tencent’s ambitions in charting all segments of the VR industry in the next 5 years, from developer software tools and SDKs to VR hardware, to consumer-facing content.

◼︎ NExT Studios, which is the youngest studio within the Tencent Games family, has partnered with the Shenzhen-based FACEGOOD, a 3D content generation technology company that is focused on building metaverse infrastructure.

 

What’s Live?

 

Gaming

◼︎ At ChinaJoy 2019, the largest gaming and digital entertainment exhibition across Asia, Tencent launched its cloud gaming solution on its WeGame client, allowing users to play several games instantly without a download. In December of that year, Tencent Games and global leader AI hardware & software leader Nvidia announced a new partnership to launch the START (云游戏) cloud gaming service for PC and console titles.

◼︎ Following the Sino-American joint venture with Roblox in May 2021, Tencent officially launched the Chinese version of Roblox (罗布乐思) topping the App Store free game list in July of 2021.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent led a $25 million Series A funding in the British developer Lockwood Publishing best known for the metaverse app Avakin Life, which allows users to create 3D characters and socialize in the virtual community.

◼︎ During the Lunar New Year in February 2022, Tencent’s instant messaging software QQ launched a new feature called “Super QQ Show” (超级QQ秀), which is an upgrade of its ‘QQ Show’ service that’s been running since 2003. Super QQ Show allows users to create their own 3D avatars and use them in an interactive context. It added AI face recognition and rendering. The platform is an interesting one for brands. Fast-food chain KFC even has its own restaurant in this virtual world.

Visiting KFC in the Super QQ Show.

◼︎ In the summer of 2022, the Tencent-backed app developer company Soulgate Inc., which operates the social networking app Soul, applied to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Tencent is the largest shareholder holding 49.9% of the shares. Soul is a virtual social playground with the mission of “building a ‘Soul’cial Metaverse for young generations” where users can connect with other users through the virtual identity they develop in the app. The majority of its users, nearly 75%, belong to Gen-Z.

 
Entertainment

◼︎ On New Year’s Eve of 2021, Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) Group launched China’s first virtual social music platform TMELAND, where users can create their own avatars and interact with each other through their “digital identity.” It’s worth mentioning that TMELAND was powered by the ‘Hybrid Edge-Cloud Platform Solution’ developed by XVERSE (元象科技), which was founded by a former Tencent executive committed to building a one-stop shop for 3D content development.

Coca Cola zone in TMLAND.

Recently, Coca-Cola partnered up with TMELAND to open a new metaverse zone, accessible via the TMELAND mini-programme on WeChat.

 

▶︎BYTEDANCE

 

Known as “the world’s most valuable startup,” the Bytedance success story started with the algorithm-powered Toutiao (头条 ‘Headlines’) in 2012, a news and content platform that personalizes content for each user based on their own preferences. The Bytedance app TikTok (Douyin in China) conquered the world as one of most successful Chinese apps internationally.

Bytedance is a social networking leader, but is also focused on its in-house development in VR/AR. By 2021, Bytedance had completed at least 76 investment events, more than the previous two years combined.

From ByteDance’s activities in the XR industry, the company seems to have its strategy primarily focused on hardware, content development, and distribution across gaming, social networking, and entertainment industries.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ As early as 2018, Toutiao (Bytedance’s core product) acquired VSCENE (维境视讯) a Beijing-based solution provider for VR Live streaming.

◼︎ In July 2020, Bytedance participated in Series A funding of Seizet (熵智科技), an industrial automation company that provides a 3D industrial camera and software.

◼︎ In February 2021, Bytedance invested in Moore Threads (摩尔线程), a company that specialized in visual computing and artificial intelligence fields. In November last year, Moore Threads announced it has developed China’s first domestic full-fledged graphic processing unit (GPU) chip. Along with 5G communications, Wi-Fi 6, cloud computing, and chip technology, GPU is considered one of the main infrastructure technologies of the metaverse.

◼︎ In August 2021, ByteDance acquired Chinese VR hardware maker & software platform Pico for approximately $771 million to support its long-term investment in the VR ecosystem. By the end of Q1 2022, Pico is estimated to hold a 4.5% share of the global VR market, following Meta which is the dominant global player (90%). This year, Bytedance has set a higher sales target for Pico headsets to reach 1.6 million device output. To meet its VR industry goals, Bytedance is investing more into promotion and hiring more staff for Pico to catch up with or even surpass Meta’s Quest.

◼︎ In June 2022, ByteDance acquired PoliQ (波粒子), a team specialized in making virtual social platforms that allow users to interact with one another using their self-invented avatars in the virtual world. Jiesi Ma, the founder of PoliQ, is appointed to lead the VR Social department at ByteDance.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ To boost its entire VR ecosystem, Pico is engaging in more partnerships with Hollywood’s major film studios and leading streaming media companies in China (iQiyi, Youku, Tencent Video, Bilibili, and so on). In July 2022, Pico hosted Pico WangFeng@VR Music + Drifting Fantasy concert which leveraged 3D 8K VR Live Streaming technology to create a “magical” and immersive visual musical experience. By wearing Pico’s VR headsets, the audience can enjoy Wang’s performance from 5 different angles and as close as a meter away.

 

What’s Live?

 

Gaming

◼︎ On February 22, 2021, Bytedance released its game development and publishing brand Nuverse (朝夕光年). To date, Nuverse has launched several successful games through APAC and the western markets including “Burning Streetball” (热血街篮), “Houchi Shoujo” (放置少女), “Ragnarok X: Next Generation” (RO仙境传说:新世代的诞生), “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang”, and “Warhammer 40,000: Lost Crusade.”

◼︎ In April 2021, Bytedance put another US$15 million into Chinese Roblox competitor Reworld (代码乾坤), a platform for creating game worlds and playing games using the company’s own simulation engine.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In September 2021, Bytedance launched its avatar app Pixsoul in Southeast Asian markets and Brazil. Users can create personalized avatars and use them to socialize.

◼︎ In January 2022, Bytedance launched a beta version of its virtual social app “Party Island” (派对岛) where users can make friends with people sharing similar interests and hang out with avatars in various virtual settings such as parks and movie theaters. However, the app was reportedly removed from app stores again and its date of relaunching is unknown.

 
Entertainment

◼︎ In September 2021, TikTok introduced its creator-led NFT collection titled “TikTok Top Moments” where TikTok will feature a selection of culturally-significant TikTok videos from some of the most beloved creators on the platform. Powered by Immutable X, users can ‘own’ a moment on TikTok that broke the internet and trade the TikTok Top Moments NFTs.

Li Weike, image via Pandaily.

◼︎ In January 2022, ByteDance bought a 20% stake in Hangzhou Li Weike Technology Co., Ltd. (Li Weike, 李未可). The company aspires to build China’s first AI+AR-powered glasses that connect users with the virtual idol Li Weike, a digital character built by the company to help users with various tasks and essentially provide users with social and emotional support.

 

By Jialing Xie and Manya Koetse

 

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