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Jia Zhangke Responds To Criticism From Global Times Editor Hu Xijin (Full Translation)

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Jia Zhangke (l) versus Hu Xijin

When the editor-in-chief of state tabloid Global Times gave Jia Zhangke’s latest film a bad review on Weibo, the renowned director responded with a bad review of the bad review.

This week, an online quarrel between Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (胡锡进) and Chinese director Jia Zhangke (贾樟柯) drew much attention on Chinese social media.

The issue started when Hu Xijin criticized Jia Zhangke’s latest film Ash Is Purest White (江湖儿女) on Weibo on September 24, calling the film “depressing” and “full of negative energy,” and suggesting the film Dying to Survive is much better.

At SupChina, Jiayun Feng translated Hu’s comments. Besides condemning the film for its negativity, Hu also wrote:

Please don’t place stinky tofu under our noses and force us to get used to that particular smell. I am aware that some people love to watch horror movies and negative energy can also attract audiences in a way like how opium gets people hooked. But I still hope filmmakers in China can study movies created by Hollywood and Bollywood and produce some movies with normal views about what’s good and what’s evil.”

Adding:

I know I can’t blame others because I bought the [movie] ticket and no one forced me to watch it. But what I’m doing here is to caution my fans no to be deceived by the movie’s title. It uses a gloomy style of filming to tell a banal story of how nice people don’t get properly rewarded for good deeds. It’s neither pleasant nor sad enough to bring you to tears. It only makes you frustrated and upset.”

Hu’s criticism was soon after deleted, but the screenshots already circulated online.

Ash Is Purest White, that was released in mainland China on September 21st, is a big box-office success and is Jia Zhangke’s highest-grossing film yet. The film revolves around the tumultuous love story between gangster Bin (Fan Liao) and dancer Qiao (Tao Zhao).

Jia’s responded to the harsh criticism in a lengthy Weibo post, that has since been shared more than 68,000 times, receiving over 128,000 likes and 30,500 comments.

Here is a full translation of Jia’s Weibo post in response to Hu:

Editor Hu Xijin:

I’m glad you went to watch ‘Ash is Purest White’. And I’m sorry it made you feel “depressed” (堵心) during the Mid-autumn Festival. First, I wish you nothing but happiness. Regarding your opinions, I’ll respond to them one by one below, comments/suggestions are of course welcome.

1. I also was moved by the movie ‘Dying to Survive’ (我不是药神). But, as Lu Xun (鲁迅) [famous Chinese writer] once said: “People’s joy and sorrows are not connected” (人类的悲欢并不相通). I’m not sure you and I are similar in what makes us happy or sad. That also goes for our feelings on ‘Ash is Purest White’ – I’m quite confused about how we could be so far apart.

2. About the “negative energy” – I believe energy is built on the basis of telling the truth as much as possible. The truth is the most powerful form of positive energy. Not tolerating truth or facts will bring about negative energy. Seeing or hearing it all the time, but pretending you have not, gains no truth or facts. In the end, it’ll lead to even greater negative energy. You should always be seeking truth from facts, don’t you agree?

3. Speaking of horror films and their audiences; I’ve never directed any horror films myself, hence my experience in this area is limited. However, all audiences are equal, regardless of taste. As an atheist, you shouldn’t really have any opinion regarding ghosts anyway, as you don’t believe in them.

4. With regards to Hollywood and Bollywood; you’re a ‘complex China’ (复杂的中国) reporter, but it would be better for you to further investigate ‘complex foreign movies’! Your job is to report ‘complex China’, and I am interested in making films about ‘complex characters.’ You can’t really be picky about your definition of “complex”, now can you?

5. Regarding “normal views about what’s good and what’s evil” – what I don’t really understand is: who should be the judge of what is normal and what is not?

6. About “stinky tofu” – you can certainly use ‘fragrant’ or ‘stinky’ as metaphors to comment on a movie. However, I disagree with your slandering of “stinky tofu.” For many families in poverty, it is all they eat! I’ve had a lot myself, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

7. Regarding the fact that you “bought the ticket yourself,” great! I’m a big supporter of the 8 provisions [rules stipulated by Chinese government on frugality within Party/government]. We don’t give free tickets to chief editors of government media!

8. About “letting your fans know” – I think it’s great of you to always have your fans in mind. But your fans might not be exactly the same as you in thinking that a movie is good or bad, in considering stinky tofu edible or not. There are many different colors in this world, if something is not black doesn’t mean it’s white.

9. About the movie using a “gloomy style” – were your eyes built in Meituxiuxiu? [美图秀秀: Chinese photoshop app]. Things are beautiful because they are real. Accept diversity and this world will be more beautiful.

10. About “nice people not getting properly rewarded for their good deeds” – I also wish good things come to good people, but this world is full of strange circumstances, and no one can have full control over it. Things we can’t control are also normal, we should accept that. I didn’t know you believed in karma yourself.

11. About it being “a banal story”: I’ve always been curious about strange stories, but would always do my best to understand the lives of ordinary people and this both inspires me and moves me.

12. With regards to you feeling “depressed” (堵得慌) – my apologies for not making you feel all warm and fuzzy during the Mid-autumn festival. I couldn’t make you tear up, your feelings didn’t get an outlet, instead, you felt “blocked and trapped.” But ‘feeling trapped’ is actually a complicated sensation, a big emotional wave if you will. You’ve been numb for too long, ‘feeling trapped’ shows that you still have some emotions. Congratulations! The fact that you ‘feel trapped’ has raised my hopes for the complexities of China.

Happy Mid-autumn Festival! I wish you all the best.

Many netizens applauded Jia’s reaction to the Global Times editor. One of the most popular comments was a wordplay on the two men’s names, saying: “Director Jia is not fake [‘jia’ in Chinese] while Editor Hu is full of nonsense [‘hu’ in Chinese]. (“贾导不假,胡编真胡 Jiǎ dǎo bù jiǎ, hú biān zhēn hú“)

“Perhaps Hu can tell me all the movies he dislikes,” another commenter said: “Because I’d sure love to watch them.”

At time of writing, the hashtag “Jia Zhangke sents response to Hu Xijin” (#贾樟柯发长文回应胡锡进#) received over 12,5 million views.

Hu dedicated another post to the issue on his Weibo account on Wednesday, saying he had written the bad review in the heat of the moment after watching the film, and that he had deleted it after calming down, never expecting it already went viral.

The editor wrote that he “fully accepted” everything Jia had written, and that he had learned his lesson and will be “more careful” in the future in posting his criticisms on Weibo.

“You have your right to criticize, and Jia has the right to refute it,” a popular comment said.

Although many people support Jia’s response to Hu, there are also those who are critical of it: “He’s just creating a hype to sell more tickets at the box office.”

Ash Is Purest White (Director’s cut) will also be featured at the upcoming Busan Film Festival.

By Miranda Barnes and Manya Koetse

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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Miranda Barnes is a Chinese blogger and part-time translator with a strong interest in Chinese media and culture. Born in Shenyang, she used to work and live in Beijing and is now based in London. On www.abearandapig.com she shares news of her travels around Europe and Asia with her husband.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Wandering Earth 2 Production Costs: Why Director Frant Gwo is Nicknamed ‘Master in Begging for Alms’

Contributing to the Wandering Earth 2 production without getting paid? It’s “powering up Chinese sci-fi with love.”

Wendy Huang

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Wandering Earth director Frant Gwo (Guo Fan) is also nicknamed the ‘Master in Begging for Alms’ (化缘大师) on social media. His efforts to convince actors and companies to contribute to the movie has kept production costs relatively low.

With the sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth II, directed by Guo Fan (郭帆 aka Frant Gwo) taking center stage during this Spring Festival movie season, there have been many social media discussions about the film and how it has been reviewed (read here), as well as about the production of the film, or more particularly, about the total production costs for this film.

Based on a story written by Liu Cixin, author of the award-winning sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, The Wandering Earth II is the prequel to the 2019 blockbuster hit The Wandering Earth, China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi film and the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

It is reported that the production investment costs for The Wandering Earth II reached approximately 600 million yuan ($88.5 million). Compared to the production budget of American sci-fi hit films such as Interstellar ($165 million) or Inception ($160 million), Chinese audiences had expected The Wandering Earth II to have much higher production costs than the reported budget, especially considering the spectacular scenes featured in the film.

The relatively lower production costs sparked discussions on Chinese social media, where the hashtag “Guo Fan – the Master in Begging for Alms” (#郭帆 化缘大师#) went trending, gaining in popularity as multiple insiders shared more stories about the production of the movie.

The hashtag, which suggests that Director Guo is a ‘Fundraising Master’ for keeping production costs low, has received over 70 million views at the time of writing. The Chinese 化缘 huàyuán means to raise funds for something or to ‘beg alms’ (like Buddhist monks or Taoist priests do).

Guo’s strict budget control already became a hot topic after the 2019 release of The Wandering Earth. One of the most famous stories is that of the movie’s main star Wu Jing (吴京), as he allegedly began as a guest celebrity and ended up as the leading actor without getting paid, while investing approximately 60 million yuan ($8.85 million) in the film’s production.

A female presenter recently also shared her story on Weibo about her free participation in the production of The Wandering Earth in 2019, which apparently showed the film’s tight production budget. In her post, she wrote: “They didn’t fool me, instead, they just told me directly that I wouldn’t get paid.” Considering the rare opportunity to act in a Chinese sci-fi production, she went to the set at her own expense and filmed scenes, including outdoor scenes in the snow and freezing cold, only to end up being featured less than a second in the finished film. Nonetheless, she said she was still proud to be a part of the landmark Chinese sci-fi film.

Perhaps the idea of taking part in a groundbreaking Chinese science fiction film has made many individuals, companies, and organizations willing to work with Guo’s team, even if no additional compensation or payment was provided.

XCMG Machinery (Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group Co, Ltd), China’s premier company in industrial design, is also one of these companies. The company set up a team of a total of 319 XCMG staff members to support the project and provided a wide range of operational and transformable machinery equipment for the UEG (United Earth Government) in the film. They called this “powering up Chinese Sci-fi with love.”

Chinese netizens already nicknamed Wandering Earth (流浪地球) “Little Broken Ball” (小破球) back in 2019. The “Ball” refers to the Earth – the second character (球) of Earth in Chinese (地球) literally means ball. It was the director himself who initially referred to his film this way, and this nickname was then popularized among netizens to describe how the Earth is in crisis in the film, but it also refers to how difficult it was for Guo to produce the film.

The fact that Guo managed to produce Wandering Earth II with a relatively limited budget compared to other big international sci-fi movies has instilled some pride among netizens. One popular blogger (@秦祎墨) suggested the actual production value of the movie went far beyond the quoted $88.5 million thanks to the collective spirit of Chinese companies who did all they could to turn this film into a mega hit.

Others praised Guo for being able to get so many people and companies involved, claiming that if it wasn’t for him, the movie would have ended up costing at least twice as much.

Some are already looking forward to a potential Wandering Earth III, saying that the ‘Little Broken Ball’ series has already managed to gather such a strong team of companies, technical support, post-production innovation and experts, that the ‘Wandering Earth universe’ should not stop after two films.

Reflecting on being nicknamed the ‘Master of Begging for Alms,’ director Guo himself reportedly expressed his gratitude toward everyone who worked on the film who was “tricked” by him, saying it is their generosity that eventually made the production of The Wandering Earth II possible.

By Wendy Huang, with contributions by Manya Koetse

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”

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This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#, 6.2 million views at time of writing).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

On Zhihu.com, some commenters also attached little value to the review and showed how the overseas reviews of Wandering Earth II widely varied in their verdict.

Meanwhile, a state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by moviegoers outside of China.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian

 

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