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A Film Lover’s Complaint: Netizens Weary of China’s “Domestic Movie Protection Month”

During the summer season, big international movies are blocked from Chinese cinemas. The policy, meant to boost China’s domestic film industry, is a dreaded one amongst China’s movie-loving social media users.

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During China’s summer season, big international movies are blocked from cinemas in the PRC. The policy, meant to boost China’s domestic film industry, is a dreaded one amongst many movie-loving social media users.

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.

 

FUTILE EFFORTS?

“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.

Data shows that in the first half of 2017, 76% of the published films were domestic ones – yet they only account for 39% of the total ticket sales.

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.”

By Miranda Barnes & Richard Barnes

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 info@whatsonweibo.com.

References (online references linked to through text):

Su, Wendy. 2016. China’s Encounter with Global Hollywood. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

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Miranda Barnes is a Chinese blogger and parttime translator with a strong interest in Chinese media and culture. Born in Shenyang, she now lives in Beijing with her British husband. On www.abearandapig.com they share news of their year-long trip around Europe and Asia.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Roge Arias

    August 5, 2017 at 1:54 am

    I have seen some of that too; didnt know it was real , tho … i mean, the phone is that strong – must be at least a little – exagerated: but i have read about the agm x2 tho: i dunno about durabilty yet but the specs are reeeeally good!the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 alone is quite interesting in that price range

    • Luis Tejada

      August 5, 2017 at 2:30 am

      The ruggeds usually ARE more expensive but , dude: they are too good i mean: why should i get a phone that is gonna break for a ridiculous fall if i can have something like the X1 or x2 ( talking about AGM) for waaay less than a sansumg… not even nomu; their phones are not like they look in their annoucements and their Customer services is awful; i honestly prefer Agm most that all for the good english customer service and the specs too.

  2. Luis Tejada

    August 5, 2017 at 2:30 am

    I love WJLF in this one! He is my fav! By the way, i have seen him promoting this brand before ( Agm phones) , a friend of mine have one and it looks amazing but i am too embarassed to ask him to let me toss his phone like in the movie xD

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China Arts & Entertainment

China’s TV & Film Companies Join Hands to Boycott Huge Salaries in Entertainment Industry

Is this the end of the exorbitant pays for Chinese actors and actresses?

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Chinese television series 'Empress of China' starring Fan Bing Bing.

After authorities put restrictions on high pays for Chinese actors and actresses, nine of China’s most prominent entertainment companies have now come forward with a proposed boycott on excessive wages for stars in film and tv dramas.

On August 11, nine of China’s biggest entertainment and streaming sites, including iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent video, issued a joint statement on boycotting excessive high wages for actors and actresses.

The statement, titled “Resisting Unreasonable Pays & Rejecting Unhealthy Industry Trends” (‘抑制不合理片酬,抵制行业不正之风’) says that actors and actresses should not get paid more than one million yuan (±US$146,000) per episode and not more than 50 million (±7,3 million US) for an entire drama show or movie.

The relatively high pay of actors and actresses in China, especially in the TV drama industry, has been making headlines for years. Previously, Chinese authorities already sought to rein in high salaries for actors, which can take up a significant percentage of a production’s budget.

In 2016, Beijing Review reported that Chinese stars’ salaries were under fire for being excessively high. At the time, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Sun Baoshu, stated that since casting takes up such a large part of production funds, producers have to cut budgets for things such as scriptwriting, stage setting, and sound recording. This leads to poorer productions, Sun said, harming the development of China’s entertainment market.

In September of 2017, the China Alliance of Radio, Film, and Television (CARFT), a non-profit organization that works under the government, ordered China’s production agencies to limit the expenses for cast salaries to no more than 40% of the total production costs for online/TV drama series. Within this percentage, the salary of the show’s leading actors reportedly could not exceed 70% of the total salary paid to all actors, arguing that top-earning stars’ high fees are harmful to a ‘healthy development’ of China’s entertainment industry. The same rule was reiterated by the Chinese tax authorities this week.

Today’s statement, for the first time, puts a cap on the fixed amount actors and actresses in the Chinese entertainment can receive per project – not based on percentages of the total budget.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the statement comes at a time when a tax evasion scandal involving China’s highest-paid actress Fan Bingbing is making headlines in China. The actress reportedly received a total payment of 60 million yuan ($9.3 million) for just four days work on the film Cell Phone 2, of which she allegedly only declared 10 million to authorities.

The scandal has attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media recently, with many bewildered reactions over the exorbitant pays in the entertainment industry.

Posts publishing the boycott statement have gone viral on Weibo this weekend; some received over 58,000 likes per thread, and the hashtag “boycott high pays” (#抵制天价片酬#) was viewed more than 16 million times at time of writing.

The companies signing the statement are:

iQiyi (爱奇艺), also dubbed ‘the Netflix of China’, a leading online entertainment and streaming service.

Youku (优酷), one of the biggest online video companies in China, sometimes referred to as the Chinese YouTube.

Tencent Video (腾讯视频), the hugely popular Chinese video streaming website owned by Tencent.

Daylight Entertainment (正午阳光), one of China’s most respected production companies.

Huace Film & TV Co (华策影视), well-known TV program production and distribution company.

Linmon Pictures (柠萌影业), a Shanghai-based Chinese film & TV producer and distributor.

Ciwen Media Co (慈文传媒), a Beijing-based film and television company.

Youhug Media (耀客传媒),a media and entertainment management company headquartered in Shanghai.

New Classics Media (新丽传媒), a renowned TV content and film producer.

Among the thousands of people responding to the new boycott on Weibo, there are many who find that the maximum pay is still way too high: “A million yuan per episode?! My god!”, many write, with some wondering why actors are making so much more money than doctors and scientists.

Others comment that they think it is funny none of the big actors and actresses on Weibo allegedly have reposted the popular statement.

“I’m supportive of the boycott,” a typical comment read: “These high fees really were an unhealthy tendency.”

Others write: “It’s good! They should have done it years ago.”

By Manya Koetse,
with contributions by Miranda Barnes.

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.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Why Disney’s Christopher Robin Is Not Released in China (And It’s Not Just Because of Winnie)

Recently, many foreign media reported that Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018) will not be released in China due to an alleged “nationwide ban” on Winnie. But there is more to this than meets the eye.

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Disney’s latest film Christopher Robin will not be released in Chinese cinemas. Many English-language media claim it is for the fact that the movie’s main star, Winnie the Pooh, is regarded too politically sensitive in the country. But these reports are clouded by misconceptions: Winnie is not banned in China, and it is common for Western films not to be released in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explains.

 
With contributions from Luka de Boni
 

Christopher Robin, denied Chinese release, is the latest victim in China’s war on Winnie the Pooh,” writes Vox. “China gives Winnie the Pooh the enemy-of-the-state treatment,” says a recent New York Post headline.

Over the past days, the fact that Disney’s new 2018 film Christopher Robin will not premiere in mainland China has made headlines in many English-language media, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Most sources allege that the movie, inspired by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s book Winnie-the-Pooh, will not be released in the country’s theatres because “Chinese leader Xi Jinping is prickly about comparisons between him and the lovable cartoon character, who has become a symbol of the resistance there” (Vox).

Film poster for Christopher Robin (Disney 2018).

BBC linked the film’s absence from Chinese movie theatres to Winnie and the supposed “nationwide clampdown on references to the beloved children’s character.”

But to what extent are these allegations true? There seem to be some misconceptions in many media about the scope of censorship on Winnie, and the release of non-Chinese films in mainland China.

 

What’s up with Winnie?

 

Over the past four years, Winnie the Pooh has, at times, been used as a political and satirical meme on Chinese social media, first becoming a target for China’s online censors when netizens compared Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who met at the California Summit, with Pooh and Tigger in 2013.

In September of 2015, an image of Pooh became trending again on the day of the military parade. During the Beijing Parade that commemorated the 70th anniversary of WWII, President Xi Jinping drove around in a car (image), inspecting the troops.

When someone watching the parade then posted an image of Pooh bear in a toy car on Weibo, it was shared 62.000 times in little over an hour. Online responses included: “As I watched [the parade], I told my mother and father the similarities [between Pooh and the President] were uncanny.” The post was then soon deleted from Weibo.

This image of Pooh was censored in 2015.

The same happened in February of 2018, when images of Winnie the Pooh as a king emerged on Weibo after the end of China’s two-term limit on presidency was announced.

Although the censorship of Pooh at these specific moments are reason enough to call the bear some sort of “symbol of defiance against censorship,” it is not reason enough to assume the bear is at the epicenter of “a nationwide clampdown,” as BBC suggested.

 

“Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline.”

 

Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline. The bear is quite popular, just as in many other countries, and people walk around wearing Pooh t-shirts and accessories in Chinese cities every day.

A current search on Chinese search engine Baidu for ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (“小熊维尼”) generates 8.5 million results. Taobao sells countless Winnie items on its e-commerce platform, and on social media site Weibo, thousands of Chinese netizens post photos of their Winnie-themed merchandise or favorite characters.

Random selection of Winnie-related posts on Weibo today (compilarion What’s on Weibo).

Disney’s Christopher Robin is also discussed online; not just by netizens but also by state media.

The moments that Pooh was censored on Chinese social media in the past, were times that China’s censorship machine was going at full-speed already. Any time that President Xi is taking part in an important meeting or event, whether it is a BRIC summit, military parade, or bilateral meeting, social media is more controlled than usual.

Because netizens were using the image of Pooh in a way that was meant to make fun of these high-profile political occasions and figures at particularly these times, they were censored. In other words: the Winnie images were censored along with many other things at particularly sensitive times for mocking a political event or figure.

Although it makes sense to say that Winnie the Pooh is perhaps more ‘sensitive’ than other cartoons (although Peppa Pig and Rage Comics had their share of censorship, too), it is questionable if this sensitivity is enough of a reason to ban Disney’s new blockbuster Christopher Robin.

 

Chinese Summer: Not a Time for Western Films

 

But if not for the bear itself, what would be a reason not to release a promising Disney movie? China’s strict foreign film import quota may play an important role.

Since the 1990s, China has a ‘foreign film quota.’ In the early years, this meant that just a small quote of foreign films were allowed to be imported into China, and in 2012, this was increased to 34 foreign movies per year. The amount of revenue that foreign producers can take from these movies is restricted to 25% (Latham 2007, 185; Ma 2017, 193).

Although Hollywood lobbyists have been negotiating with Chinese film authorities to allow more foreign films to be imported under revenue-sharing terms, there’s been little progress for now – the ongoing looming trade-war has not benefited the situation.

Besides the longstanding cap on foreign films, China also has unofficial ‘Hollywood black-out periods’ in which Hollywood blockbusters are prevented to enter the market so as to boost sales of local productions, a phenomenon dubbed “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. Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years (read more here). As a consequence, it is common for big American productions to not be released in China during the summer months, the period where cinemas make the most revenues. 

In 2011, for example, the Harry Potter blockbuster of the year was premiered in China five weeks later than it was in the rest of the world. Last summer, both Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming had their release dates delayed by several months, most probably to give the patriotic, local production Wolf-Warrior 2 a boost in sales. 

These black-out periods can also serve another purpose. According to CNBC, they can also be used to give Chinese film authorities additional bargaining power in their negotiations with US lobbyists. With these negotiations increasing in importance lately, as a result of deteriorating US-China trade relations, it might make sense that Chinese authorities would want to put themselves in the most favorable bargaining position.  

Each year, it is unclear when the ‘black-out period’ starts and ends. Generally, it can start as early as mid-June and finish as late as late-August.

 

Goodbye, Christopher Robin?

 

With many netizens and various state media (including China Global Television Network) posting about the release of Christopher Robin on Weibo and beyond, it is unlikely that political sensitivity over Winnie is the (only) reason why the film will not be shown in Chinese cinemas this summer.

Whether or not the film will definitely not come out in China is also not clear. The process of translation and censorship checking for films can take a long time and will sometimes mean films come out much later in the PRC.

Even when not reaching the big screens, most Hollywood blockbusters will eventually be available for viewing on online channels such as Youku or iQiyi.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017), another movie focusing on the story of Winnie the Pooh, is available for viewing on iQiyi and other (paid) streaming sites in China.

Many netizens would welcome a delayed release of Christopher Robin in China. The movie’s hashtag (#克里斯托弗·罗宾#) has already been viewed nearly three million times on Weibo.

While for many, the bear has no political connotations, there are also those who are still trying to post pictures of President Xi Jinping as Pooh – those will soon be deleted.

“I just wanted to see if it would be deleted,” the Weibo user says: “But actually, I really do think he’s cute.”

For more on this, check out today’s feature on BBC World Update (video by What’s on Weibo).

By Manya Koetse, and Luka de Boni

References

Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. Oxford: ABC Clio.

Ma, Winston. 2017. China’s Mobile Economy: Opportunities in the Largest and Fastest Information Consumption Boom. Cornwall: Wiley.

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.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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