This summer, while big Hollywood films such as Spiderman: Homecoming or War of the Planet of the Apes are riding the heat wave in North America, audiences in China will not be seeing them until end of August. The only big western film they can see during this two-month-period is Despicable Me 3.
The measure is a much-dreaded one on Chinese social media, where many young people complain that now that they finally have the time to go and see their favorite movies in the cinema, they can’t because they are blocked: “I’m always in school and can’t see any movies. Now that I’m free I still can’t see them.”
DOMESTIC FILM PROTECTION MONTH
“What once started out as a month-long Hollywood ‘blackout’ has gradually extended over the years.”
The reason behind the delay is the “invisible hand” of the Chinese state. During the summer holidays, the Chinese National Film Board blocks many imported foreign blockbusters, a phenomenon called “Domestic Film Protection Month” (国产电影保护月).
The term was allegedly coined in 2004, when Chinese media reported about an order restricting screening foreign films between June 10 and July 10 each year. According to Baidu Baike (百度百科), Baidu’s equivalent of Wikipedia, there are no publicly available official documents defining this policy.
The term was also used in an item published by regional media in 2006. The article (“国产电影保护月”沈阳遇冷引发议论“) states that the policy was launched in order to protect China’s domestic movie business. During “Domestic Film Protection Month,” as it was dubbed by the media and film industry, it is not “encouraged” to show big foreign films in China’s cinemas.
What once started out as a month-long Hollywood ‘blackout’ has gradually extended over the years. Currently, the blocking of foreign blockbusters lasts around 2 months each summer.
Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years. The policy has also extended to several other major national holidays like Chinese New Year and the National Day holiday. During these holidays, a majority of China’s population is off work – a peak moment for cinemas.
BOOSTING CHINA’S FILM INDUSTRY
“The scene in which Tom Cruise’s character kills two Chinese henchmen was one of those eliminated scenes, as it was deemed ‘truly insulting'”
There are various ways in which the Chinese state interferes in the movie industry to support and protect domestic film production. Besides the “Domestic Film Protection Month” and other measures – such as opening two big Hollywood movies on the same day – there is also a limit to the number of foreign films accepted into China’s cinemas; Chinese audiences can only see 34 overseas films per year. Revenues from these films are shared between the Chinese film distributors and the western producers.
The measurements are part of a wider campaign to boost the domestic film industry. In the 2005-2012 period, only one-third of China’s domestic movies were screened by China’s major cinemas; up to 80% of Chinese film projects lost money as a consequence. The ‘blackout’ periods need “to ensure that Hollywood films account for no more than 50% of the market in any given year” (Su 2016).
Some of the films that were postponed in China over the past decade include Spider-Man 2 (2004), Mr. Smith&Mrs Smith (2004) Garfield (2006), Transformers (2007), Harry Potter (2011), Ben-Hur (2016), and many others.
But support for domestic films is not always the only reason why the release of Hollywood films is postponed in Chinese cinemas. The process of translation and censorship also contributes to the final date a western film is released in China.
The release of Mission Impossible 3 in 2006, for example, was delayed because some scenes filmed in Shanghai needed to be erased. The scene in which Tom Cruise’s character kills two Chinese henchmen was one of those eliminated scenes, as it was deemed “truly insulting” by the China Film Group. The film could only be released after this part was censored.
“Despite the endless efforts, Hollywood films are still making substantially more money than their domestic rivals in Chinese cinemas.”
Despite the endless efforts, Hollywood films are still making substantially more money than their domestic rivals in Chinese cinemas. In 2016, Terminator Genysis was the first big foreign film to come out after the ‘protection month.’
This film, that was rather mediocre considering its ratings and ticket sales in North America, received a warm welcome from Chinese audiences: it made a staggering RMB 181 million (USD 27million) on its opening day. Thanks to its sales in China, this film could be deemed – financially at least – a success.
Despicable Me 3, the only western film to have been allowed outside of this summer’s ‘Hollywood blackout’, exceeded RMB 300 million (USD 44.6m) in ticket sales within 2 days after its release. As of 31st July, 25 days after in Chinese cinemas, that number had already risen to RMB 990 million (±USD 147m).
Ironically, its success also comes as a result of the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’. As some netizens say on Weibo: “Thanks to the domestic film protection month, ???, I’ve seen too many sh*t films; I need to see some cartoon [Despicable Me 3] to wash my eyes.”
A FILM-LOVER’S COMPLAINT
“I’m in despair – when will the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’ finally be over?!”
On Chinese social media, many other film-loving netizens also complain about the summer restrictions on foreign movies and express their wish to watch big foreign films at the same time as the rest of the world. Many also indicate they would rather support movies based on their quality than where come from.
“I’m in despair – when will the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’ finally be over?!” some commenters asked.
“Are you done protecting your stuff yet? I’m waiting,” others said.
Despite the criticism, there are also netizens who say they hope that China’s domestic cinema can grow and develop into a more thriving industry. Their wishes might be fulfilled, as recent reports show that Chinese films such as Wolf Warrior 2 (战狼2) are benefiting from the fact that China blocks international competition from the market during this period; the patriotic blockbuster made a massive $130M debut this summer.
Some netizens are satisfied despite the restrictions, and praised the movie on their Weibo account, adding: “Wolf Warrior 2 has become the movie hit of the summer. I didn’t expect it – it’s not easy to see a good movie during the ‘protect movies’ summer season.”
This article has been revised by the editor.
©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
References (online references linked to through text):
Su, Wendy. 2016. China’s Encounter with Global Hollywood. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.
9 Chinese Films of 2017 You Need to Know About
As the new year is around the corner, it is time to look back at 9 Chinese movies from 2017 that are unforgettable.
With the year’s end in sight, it is time to look back at what 2017 has brought, and cinema is undoubtedly one of the good things worth remembering about 2017.
Whether you fancy action, comedy, or drama, there are certain Chinese films that were released in 2017 that are must-sees for both movie-lovers and China watchers. Some of them are important to know about because they broke box office records, some are masterpieces with profound cultural meaning, others are simply entertaining – and then there are those that just fall in between.
Before 2017 ends, we list 9 Chinese releases of the year that you should go and watch if you haven’t done so yet, just because they are worth it.
Even if you’re not a fan of Chinese films, chances are high that you’ve heard of Wolf Warrior II for its staggering box office numbers. Released in July 2017, the action thriller became the top-grossing film of all time in China in only ten days time. It has grossed nearly 825 million USD so far.
Chinese action star Wu Jing directed the film and also plays the main character: a military hero of the People’s Liberation Army who sets on avenging the capture of his lover in a disease-riddled and war-torn unnamed African nation where China has built hospitals and provided factory jobs for the locals. As if that weren’t enough, the bad guys that are fought by this unstoppable hero – to save and protect innocent civilians – are revolutionaries and Western mercenaries.
Whether you like the politics of Wolf Warrior II or not, this film is relevant for multiple reasons. Besides its record-breaking box office numbers, it was also chosen to represent China in the Oscar’s best foreign film 2018 competition, which is uncommon for action movies. The film was also widely discussed as a work of nationalist propaganda.
Duckweed tells the sweet story of a champion racer who time-travels back to the late 90s, meeting his estranged father and never-seen mother and sets out on a comical adventure with them.
Besides displaying a touching father-son ‘bromance’ and featuring witty plot twists, Duckweed vividly portrays some yesteryear scenes in a small town near Shanghai in 1990s China; a pre-mobile phone era where petty gang members carried beepers as talismans of power. Some features of this film might remind you of Back to the Future.
Directed by the talented blogger/author/entrepreneur/car-racer Han Han and starring some of the most well-known actors and actresses in China such as Deng Chao, Zhao Liying, and Eddie Peng, this easy-going and nostalgic comedy became a holiday hit in China during Chinese Spring Festival in early 2017. With the refined acting and well-written storyline, this time-traveling film presents a coming-of-age tale that is worth your laughter (and tears).
As the very first Chinese animation film that was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Have A Nice Day is one of the very few Chinese films that stood out at the major international film award events this year.
The film is set in suburban China, where a chauffeur steals a large amount of money from a local gangster to help his girlfriend fix a failed plastic surgery operation. Later on, this turns into a bloody conflict involving several people from diverse backgrounds with different personal motives.
Despite the fact that Have A Nice Day premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year and has since been released in multiple countries, this animated dark comedy still has not been officially released in mainland China yet.
The film was also withdrawn from a film festival in France in June of this year because of “official pressures.” The 77-minutes animation was allegedly blocked after not passing China’s film censorship.
Although the director Liu Jian claimed his work has nothing to do with politics but is just focused on people’s desires and fates, the brilliantly ironic and cynical way Have A Nice Day portrays its characters, their lifestyles, and the landscape of contemporary China, with dark humor script and sharp dialogs which were bound to touch a nerve.
With its all-star cast and glorious depiction of the early history of the Communist Party of China, The Founding of an Army is the third Chinese nationalist film produced by the state-owned China Film Group Corporation, following The Founding of a Republic (2009) and The Founding of a Party (2011).
To commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s establishment, The Founding of an Army recaps moments of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, and other founding fathers of China who fought against the KMT-led government during the Chinese Civil War.
Despite all of these factors, this government-backed propaganda film struggled hard for both box office numbers and media attention. Unfortunately for this film, it coincided with the other patriotic work Wolf Warrior II during the same screening period in the summer. This history-based war film was also criticised for casting a lot Chinese teenage idols and popular young actors who arguably did not have the adequate acting skills to play those military leaders in the movie.
Paths of the Soul is directed by Yang Zhang, whose film Shower received high critic ratings in 1999. This film, Paths of the Soul, first premiered back in 2015 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it took this film two years to make it onto cinemas in mainland China.
This documentary-drama film blurs the lines between cinematography and photography as it captures the devout and daunting undertaking journey of a group of Tibetan villagers who make a 1,200-kilometer pilgrimage to Lhasa, the holy city of Tibetan Buddhism.
During this over-10-months travel to Lhasa, the changes of seasons and landscapes not only show the distance and time span, but also every obstacle these pilgrims face; natural disasters, financial problems, and internal quarrels.
Paths of the Soul touches the potentially sensitive issue of minority ethnicities in China and their religion. This focus is also rather unpopular on the mainstream Chinese film market, and all actors starring in the film are generally unknown to the majority of Chinese audiences — they are all Tibetans while some of them weren’t even actors before starring in this movie.
Despite all odds, to the surprise of many, Paths of the Soul has successfully grossed over 14.9 million USD and became one of the very few independent productions that was able to make over 100 million RMB box office in China. Perhaps it is this movie’s ability to trigger viewers to think about the smaller and bigger questions of life that has turned it into an unexpected success.
Never Say Die revolves around the story of a male boxer swapping bodies with a female reporter who exposed his bribes, after which they have to help each other to win the UFC championship.
The plot of soul-exchanging may already be a cliche, but this fantasy comedy still managed to dominate the Golden Week holiday box offices and has grossed over 325 million USD so far, coming along as the second big Chinese film box office success of 2017 following Wolf Warrior II, while becoming the highest-grossing comedy in China ever.
Without any big-name cast or large production, Never Say Die uses an easy-going plot and commonly-understood jokes to catch the Chinese audience. And this may signal that the lower-cost Chinese folk comedies are heading in a new direction.
Twenty Two is the title of this documentary and refers to the number of Chinese WWII ‘comfort women’ who are still alive and willing to share their story with the public.
After nearly a century, this documentary focuses on the voices of these 22 women during the last stage of their lives, revisiting the traumas they experienced during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
The documentary shows how these brave and strong elder women talk about their history, perspectives on life, sufferings, and how they found personal happiness despite all hardships. Unlike most film and television works in China relating to Sino-Japanese War, the heart of Twenty Two doesn’t seem to lie in narrow nationalistic purposes; instead, it succeeds in letting the general public know and understand this specific group of war victims, permanently preserving a crucial part of war history.
It can’t be compared to the classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield is definitely the only Chinese wuxia film in 2017 that was able to do well in the box-offices while also earning great critic reviews.
The film is set in the late Ming Dynasty, when minors and weaklings occupied the throne; neglecting their duties, relying on power-hungry palace eunuchs, and isolating themselves from government ministers.
Shen Lian is an elite guard of the palace who gets framed for treason. In order to prove his innocence, he seeks the truth behind this conspiracy together with a mysterious artist.
Brotherhood of Blades II features a mix of amazing martial arts, beautiful scenery, exquisite costume design, and tasteful drama, all the while carrying a sociopolitical undertone. Through the furious and thrilling martial arts extravaganza, this wuxia sequel presents the audience with the styles and lives, the fate and determination, and the toughness and loyalty of the fighters within Chinese tradition.
This sensitive generational drama starts with the 60-year-old Hui Ying deciding to move her father’s grave from his hometown to a place beside her mother’s grave in the city.
However, the first wife of Hui Ying’s father, who has looked after the grave for years, doesn’t approve of her decision. When Hui’s journalist daughter Wei Wei gets involved, the disagreement ends up becoming a problem for the whole town community.
Love Education is a work that touches upon issues of generational gaps, love, and womanhood in modern-day China. Throughout the grave-moving issue, the film highlights contemporary Chinese family values and shows how women at 30, 60, 90 years old see and learn to deal with the relationships and bonds between mother-daughter, husband-wife, and grandmother-daughter while facing different hardships in their professional and personal lives at their various life stages.
Filled with sophisticated irony and wisdom regarding the topic of love, Love Education is a pleasant and innocuous highbrow lifetime drama. When it opened in the first week of November in China, the film scored a rare 8.6 points on Douban, the biggest Chinese website for film, music, and book reviews, becoming the highest-rated Chinese film in 2017.
Journey To The West: Netizens Call Jelly Lin’s Cleavage “Highlight of the Movie”
Although the much-anticipated Chinese movie ‘Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back’ has broken box office records on its opening day, many moviegoers are not too impressed. They call the cleavage of actress Lin Yun’s the “best part of the movie.”
The Chinese fantasy film Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back (西游伏妖篇) broke box office records on its opening day last weekend.
Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back, themed around one of the four great classics of Chinese literature, is the sequel to the 2013 hit Journey To The West: Conquering the Demons (西遊·降魔篇). The sequel’s success shows that hit film producer Stephen Chow (周星驰) knows how to excite people about his films; this was a much-anticipated one.
But many moviegoers thought the film did not live up to expectations (also see this 2.5/5 review in the SCMP). On Chinese social media, people jokingly called the cleavage of actress Jelly Lin, also known as Lin Yun (林允), the “highlight of the movie.”
The topic “Lin Yun’s breasts” even became the most popular searched topic on Chinese social media after the weekend. Many people also did not understand, writing: “Lin Yun’s cleavage is not as impressive as that of Claudia Wang Likun, so why is that the highlight?”
Many netizens called the movie “unconvincing.” One netizen said: “Lin Yun’s breasts are the best part of the film.” Another person said: “From beginning to end, they were actually the movie’s highlight.” Others said: “The movie is bad, the cleavage is good.”
It is not the first time that an actress’s cleavage becomes trending on Sina Weibo. In 2015, the cleavage of Fan Bingbing in Chinese TV drama The Empress of China (also known as The Saga of Wu Zetian) made headlines when China’s censors temporarily canceled and edited all scenes showing ‘too much’ breasts. The show returned to the screen mostly showing faces, and no cleavage.
Although many people seem to appreciate Lin Xun’s looks more than the quality of the movie, not everybody agrees. Some netizens say they really liked the film, especially appreciating the role played by Kris Wu (吴亦凡).
There is one thing that both critics and fans of the movie The Demons Strike Back seem to have in common; they all say the film is “pleasing to the eye.”
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