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How Chinese Netizens Boosted the Buzz for the ‘Creation of the Gods’ Blockbuster

Despite initial low expectation, this Chinese ‘Lord of the Rings’ has now garnered a devoted online community of fans who are helping to boost its success.

Wendy Huang

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It has become a major summer box office hit in China: Creation of the Gods I. Despite its initial lackluster performance, audiences raved about the mix of traditional Chinese mythology and high-tech industrialized cinema, and a loyal online community of fans boosted its ticket sales.

Early this week, the Weibo hashtag “Creation of the Gods I Breaks 2 Billion Yuan [US$275M] in Box Office” (#封神第一部票房破20亿#) became a trending topic on Weibo, followed by a hashtag celebrating raking in 2.2 billion [US$302M] on Friday (#封神第一部票房破22亿#), showcasing the remarkable success of Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms (封神第一部:朝歌风云) in both Chinese cinemas and across social media platforms.

Together, the hashtags have amassed an impressive 230 million views to date, underscoring the growing popularity of this summer box office sensation.

Directed by Chinese film director Wuershan (乌尔善), Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms stands as the initial film within the trilogy of the fantasy epic Creation of the Gods, also known as Fengshen Trilogy (封神三部曲).

The mythological epic is considered the most ambitious and expensive production in Chinese film history with a planned budget of 3 billion yuan (approximately US$410 million).

The film, which was officially released on July 20th, achieved its box office milestone 25 days after its release. The success of Creation of the Gods I can largely be attributed to the collaborative efforts of the production team and a dedicated group of fans who volunteered to promote the film online, a phenomenon referred to as zìláishuǐ (自来水).

Zìláishuǐ (自来水) literally means ‘tap water’ but it is a label for those netizens who spontaneously promote a film or artist without getting paid for it.

The three characters, 自来水, are actually an abbreviation of the term 发而的网络军 (zìfāérlái de wǎngluò shuǐjūn: “self-organized internet water army”).

This term has emerged on Chinese social media in recent years, signifying a group of individuals who willingly promote films or television series out of love and admiration. Their actions are driven by personal enthusiasm and passion. Unlike those who are paid to promote something, these ardent fans invest their own time and effort into amplifying the presence of their favorite films or shows.

This concept first gained prominence within the fan community of the film Wolf Warrior (战狼) in 2015. It gained broader recognition with Monkey King: Hero Is Back (西游记之大圣归来) later that same year when zìláishuǐ successfully influenced numerous cinemas to increase showings for the animated movie. Earlier this year, zìláishuǐ once again played a crucial role in boosting the popularity of The Wandering Earth II (流浪地球2) upon its release.

 

Rocky Start for a Multi-Billion-Dollar Film


 

The origins of the Fengshen Trilogy can be traced back to an initial pinghua (平话) story – which laid the foundation for later written narrative forms in China, – namely King Wu’s Campaign Against [King] Zhou (武王伐纣平话), that emerged sometime between the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, as well as the Investiture of the Gods (封神演义), a novel from the Ming (1368-1644) dynasty.

This captivating narrative delves into the history of the Shang (c. 1600-c. 1046 BC) and Zhou (c. 1046-771 BC) dynasties, intricately weaving together folklore, legends, and a variety of mythical beings and creatures.

The official movie poster.

Wuershan reportedly came up with the idea for the movie after watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 and publicly shared his intention to turn the Fengshen story into a film in 2012. The project officially commenced in June 2014.

From February 2017 onwards, a global audition was held to select the lead actors and actresses, who then underwent 6-8 months of specialized training. The filming started on August 2018, and concluded in January 2020.

The narrative of Fengshen holds tremendous popularity in China. Nevertheless, this extensive familiarity might actually present a challenge when it comes to triggering the audience’s interest. Past mythological films produced in China have often left viewers with exceedingly low expectations – or even a lack of expectations altogether – for this genre of Chinese cinema.

The challenges encountered by Wuershan and his team were amplified by the three-year-long pandemic and the investment issues of the film’s primary production company, Beijing Culture. The pandemic introduced uncertainty about the film’s release, while Beijing Culture, the primary investor, faced complications due to its involvement in actress Zheng Shuang’s project. Zheng’s reputation had already taken a significant hit when she was accused of abandoning her two surrogate babies in the US, followed by substantial fines for tax evasion (read more).

Although the filming concluded, the movie’s release date was pushed back, prompting concerns about the film’s quality and noticeably dampening the expectations and excitement among Chinese netizens. In June 2023, the announcement of the film’s official release date also failed to generate significant attention or interest among netizens.

At the early stages of promoting the film, the movie’s marketing team adopted a strategy in which they mostly highlighted the young, good-looking, and muscular actors starring in the film. But this approach made some netizens believe that the film had to rely on such visuals to attract audiences because its overall quality was just not up to par.

Based on data from the Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan, Creation of the Gods I garnered a modest box office earnings of slightly over 49 million yuan (US$6.7M) on its opening day, positioning it in the eighth spot among other films that were launched around the same time. This outcome was not just quite disappointing for a project that had received a substantial investment of 3 billion yuan – it was actually pretty disastrous.

 

Captivating the Hearts of Moviegoers


 

In spite of its tumultuous production journey and initial cautious response from Chinese moviegoers, as the film continued to be screened in theaters, an increasing number of netizens began to develop a genuine fondness and admiration for Creation of the Gods I.

1: New Portrayal of Su Daji

The presentation of the storyline, especially the reinterpretation of the renowned character Su Daji (苏妲己), garnered praise from moviegoers.

In the original story of Investiture of the Gods, Su Daji was held responsible for the downfall of the Shang Dynasty due to her seduction of Yin Shou (殷寿), the King of the Shang Dynasty. This fateful enticement ultimately metamorphosed him into a ruthless ruler, leading to the demise of the dynasty.

Within China, an ingrained idiomatic expression places responsibility on women for unfortunate occurrences, known as “a beauty that brings disaster” (红颜祸水), and Su Daji has long been emblematic of this notion. However, Wuershan and his screenwriting team chose to diverge from this perspective in the film. Instead, the movie portrays Su Daji as a manifestation of Yin Shou’s ambitious nature. It underscores that Su Daji wasn’t the catalyst for the dynasty’s downfall; rather, Yin Shou himself was responsible for his own downfall.

Although not everyone agrees with this new portrayal of Su Daji, the controversy around the character’s representation has brought greater attention to the film.

2: Fresh Faces in China’s Cinema

Another factor contributing to Creation of the Gods I‘s success in capturing the affection of early moviegoers is the commitment exhibited by both the younger and more seasoned actors and actresses, whether in leading roles or supporting positions.

The majority of actors and actresses who assumed key roles in the film were newcomers to the entertainment industry, introduced through a global audition process. This extensive search encompassed around 15,000 individuals worldwide, culminating in the selection of over 30 participants for a specialized training camp.

The actors and actress before and after the training courses. Snapshots from the film’s production documentary.

Within this training program, they underwent instruction in martial arts, equestrianism, archery, drumming, ancient qin music, and a variety of cultural courses, including pre-Qin history and etiquette. These courses were devised based on the Six Arts: rites (礼), music (乐), archery (射), chariotry or equestrianism (御), calligraphy (书), and mathematics (数). These arts formed the core of education in ancient Chinese culture and were required to be mastered by students during the Zhou dynasty.

3: Costume & Set Design

The production team’s meticulous attention to detail in the costumes and set designs further increased the film’s popularity.

For example, the production team built an entire forest system ecosystem reminiscent of Tibet’s Linzhi and Motuo forests, all within a 10,000-square-meter studio in Qingdao. This was partly due to the protective status of Tibet’s forests, rendering filming scenes involving horse riding impossible. The set allegedly was so lifelike, that many butterflies and insects were attracted to the forest after it was completed.

The Longde Hall set, via The Paper.

Similar stories also includes the construction of the main set, the Longde Hall (龙德殿) which was built up by a set design team consisting of 1,500 workers, with 800 of them specializing in wood carving.

After learning all these stories behind the movie, many Chinese netizens have come to believe that the film is not as bad as initially thought. They attributed its underperformance at the box office not to its quality but to an inadequate promotional strategy and execution. In response, many have rallied to support the film.

 

Zilaishui to the Rescue


 

Lately, a big group of fresh enthusiasts for Creation of the Gods have come together on Chinese social media and are growing rapidly as a community of ‘Fengshen zìláishuǐ‘ (封神自来水): voluntary and passionate supporters and promoters of the Fengshen Trilogy.

Shui Mu Ding (@水木丁), a Chinese columnist and writer, who is also a member of the ‘Fengshen zìláishuǐ,’ shared her emotions after observing the film’s first-day box office results: “Picture yourself strolling along the beach and stumbling upon a beached whale. You may not have the power to help it, but would you just turn around and leave? It seems impossible to let go.”

She then wrote an article and published it on WeChat and Weibo, recommending this film to her readers and followers. Some people questioned if she was paid for it, but she said she did this “simply because I want to.”

Simultaneously, other members of the ‘Fengshen zìláishuǐ‘ community are also contributing to broaden the film’s impact through various approaches.

For example, they use the content of the film to create memes on social media.

One of the trending memes is the “God Bless You” meme created by netizens. The meme features Chen Kun’s role in the film – Yuanshi Tianzun, one of the highest deities in Taoism.

Due to actor Fei Xiang’s (费翔) prolonged stay in English-speaking countries, he carries a unique accent when speaking Mandarin. Chinese internet users have noticed this and discovered that in his dialogue, there are certain pronunciations resembling English words. For this reason, together with some word jokes in Chinese, this kind of ‘Chinglish’ (‘Yinglish’ 商务殷语) has become a source of online banter.

They also cleverly “hijack” ongoing trending topics linked to the actors involved in the film, even when these subjects weren’t directly linked to the film itself. By employing a clickbait approach or crafting posts reminiscent of gossip news narratives, their ultimate goal is to persuade netizens who viewed this hashtag to learn more about the film and, ideally, entice them to go to the cinemas to see the movie.

A review penned by the stepson of Chinese actress Chen Shu (陈数). He composed the review in both Chinese and English, intending to recommend the movie to people outside of China.

Then there are those people sharing their experiences after viewing the movie in the cinema and posting them on different social platforms. Some fans even choose to watch the film in theaters twice, three times or even more, pondering over details and sharing their discoveries online, to showcase their support for the film.

 

Embracing a New Era in the Industrialization of China’s Film Industry


 

Among the many reviews shared by Fengshen zìláishuǐ, the credits list at the end of the film, just before the bonus scene, keep poppping up. This extensive roster of names, scrolling across the screen for about three minutes, shows the immense scale of this challenging project, resonating deeply with many moviegoers and sparking discussions on the industrialization of Chinese films.

As highlighted in prior interviews, director Wuershan possesses a clear vision for enhancing and refining Chinese film production. His ideas encompass streamlining film production processes by genre, implementing structured and methodical approaches to oversee every facet of filmmaking, and seamlessly integrating cutting-edge technologies.

Wuershan talking about producing the movie.

These principles have been seamlessly woven into the production of the Fengshen Trilogy, setting new standards for the industrialization of China’s film realm.

For instance, prior to actual filming, Wuershan conducted multiple animation previews and rehearsals, aligning his team with his creative vision and mitigating potential losses arising from miscommunication. This approach not only trimmed shooting and editing expenses but also facilitated meticulous planning of the shooting schedule.

Given the film’s extensive utilization of visual effects and reliance on blue screen technology, director of photography Wang Yu (王昱) and his team devised an ingenious technique to craft an expansive screen. They ingeniously repurposed excavator buckets into blue panels, collaborating with the excavator team to erect the blue screen as needed. Through precise control of various angles, they erected a sprawling screen wall.

In another instance of production innovation aimed at standardizing filming procedures, the production team veered away from conventional boxed meals and fast food, instead establishing an actual “Fengshen Canteen” to cater to their workforce of 8000 members, strictly following China’s food safety regulations.

In his quest to explore new ways to improve China’s movie industry industrialization, Wuershan joins the ranks of other directors such as Guo Fan (郭帆) (The Wandering Earth 2) or Chen Sicheng (陈思诚) (Lost In The Stars). They’re all dedicated to innovating film processes across various genres by melding Hollywood knowledge with their own filmmaking expertise to bolster China’s film industry. Guo Fan also visited the set of Fengshen Trilogy to learn from the filming process.

This idealism and drive to improve China’s film industry at large has also resonated with Fengshen zìláishuǐ, futher motivating them to continue their efforts in promoting high quality Chinese films like Creation of The Gods

For now, some fans are already concerned about how their beloved “domestically produced masterpiece” will perform in the international market. But most zìláishuǐ are still busy to promote the movie on Chinese social media and further helping to grow its box office numbers, paving the way for the release of the first and second films of the trilogy during the upcoming summer vacations in China – next year and the year after. If all goes well, we’ll know what they’ll do next summer.

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Wendy Huang is a China-based Beijing Language and Culture University graduate who currently works for a Public Relations & Media software company. She believes that, despite the many obstacles, Chinese social media sites such as Weibo can help Chinese internet users to become more informed and open-minded regarding various social issues in present-day China.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Looking Back on the 2024 CMG Spring Festival Gala: Highs, Lows, and Noteworthy Moments

Reflecting on the highs and lows of this year’s China Media Group Spring Festival Gala, the world’s most-watched television program.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM CONTENT

The biggest media spectacle of the Chinese New Year is the annual CMG Spring Festival Gala. The entire week, this four-hour extravaganza featuring forty-six performances has dominated social media conversations.

The 42nd edition of The CMG Spring Festival Gala was broadcasted on February 9th, celebrating the start of the Dragon Year. This year, the show reportedly attracted 679 million viewers.

The annual Spring Festival Gala by the state-run China Media Group (CMG) has become an integral part of the Lunar New Year celebrations for Chinese people since its debut in 1983. As the world’s most-watched live-broadcasted entertainment program, the Gala is now aired across dozens of channels, both in China and abroad, both on television and online.

China’s Spring Festival Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) is commonly abbreviated to Chūnwǎn (春晚) in Chinese. Over the past week, the Chūnwǎn became a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media and dominated all trending lists during the Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The Gala, which lasts a total of four hours, shows the very best of China’s mainstream entertainment and Party propaganda and is a mix of culture, commerce, and politics. Through music, dance, art, and comedy, the event serves as a significant platform for the Party to disseminate official ideology. It is also a chance to present the nation’s top performers while showcasing digital innovations.

 

A “No-Covid”, Traditional Gala


 

The phrase “There will never be a worse, just worse than last year [中央春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂]” has become a well-known saying among viewers about the Chūnwǎn, as complaining about the show is very much part of the tradition. However, was this year really worse than last year? Not at all.

This 2024 edition was directed by Yu Lei (于蕾), who also directed the 2023 Gala. The 45-year-old female director previously also served as the general scriptwriter and overall designer for the Gala.

Not only was the director the same as last year, but the five main hosts were also exactly the same. They include Ren Luyu (任鲁豫, 1978), the TV host from Henan who has now become one of the most familiar faces on the show; Sa Beining, also known as Benny Sa (撒贝宁, 1976), who is famous for his CCTV work and for hosting the Gala regularly over the past twelve years; Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买提, 1983), a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who has hosted the Gala seven times since 2015; Long Yang (龙洋, 1989), a CCTV host from Hunan who presented the Gala for the third time this year; and Ma Fanshu 马凡舒 (1993), who was the youngest and newest host during the 2022 Gala and has been presenting it since.

The choice of director and presenters suggests that continuity and consistency were important for this year’s Chūnwǎn. Although the Gala’s format is always more or less the same, including songs, dances, cross-talk, sketches, traditional opera, martial arts, magic, etc., this year’s Gala stood out for sticking to tradition.

Over the past few years during the pandemic, several elements of the show were altered to adapt to the new situation. From 2021 to 2023, the show was only broadcast from the Beijing Studio and focused less on big spectacular scenes. Since 2020, the battle against Covid has also been a theme in the show. In 2020, the Gala included a segment that was broadcast live from a Wuhan hospital to show how medical staff were spending their Lunar New Year taking care of Covid patients. That was the first time since 1983 for the Gala to include a segment that was not meticulously rehearsed.

From 2021 to 2023, the nation’s battle against Covid was also a theme in songs and other segments, reflecting on the daily lives of ordinary people. In 2021, for example, Jackie Chan sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好), which addressed the epidemic situation and honored all who joined in the fight against the virus.

However, the theme of Covid played no role at all anymore in this year’s Chūnwǎn, which focused entirely on celebrating the Year of the Dragon, the home, and the nation (龙行龘龘,欣欣家国). Similar to the pre-2020 Gala, this 42nd edition was broadcast not only from the Beijing venue but also included performances in four other locations: Shenyang, Changsha, Xi’an, and Kashgar. Continuity was also seen in the 46 acts of the night, as many familiar faces, such as Sun Nan (孙楠) and Han Hong (韩红), performed during the night.

 

Highlights of the 2024 Gala


 

The xiangsheng (相声) act “Director’s Worries” (“导演的心事”) was the most-watched act of the entire show according to the viewership ratings – this also relates to the time of the broadcasting. Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns. This act was performed by comedians Jin Fei (金霏) and Chen Xi (陈曦). They were also joined by others, turning it into a “group xiangsheng” (群口相声) that humorously portrayed the mental strains faced by Chinese young people and served as a source for parodies and memes on social media.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Song “Dragon” (龙), performed by famous pop singers Zhang Jie aka Jason Zhang (张杰) and Sun Nan (孙楠) was particularly popular this Gala. The song encompassed the main theme of the Dragon Year, as they sang about how a dragon lies in every Chinese person, representing the spirit and strength of the Chinese nation over the past five thousand years. This song integrated popular entertainment with the essence of the Chinese New Year, cultural heritage, and national pride, making it the perfect anthem for the Spring Festival Gala. One Weibo post by Zhang Jie about his performance received nearly 167,000 comments and over 176,000 shares.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The performance of “Koi Carp” (锦鲤) featuring lead dancer Hua Xiaoyi (华宵一) and the Beijing Dance Academy (北京舞蹈学院) was another standout moment of the Gala. The ‘painting’ dance “Only This Green” (只此青绿) stole the spotlight in 2022, while the ’embroidery’ dance “Splendid” (锦绣) was one of the highlights of the show in 2023. Continuing the tradition of presenting top-notch, artistic dance that merges tradition with technology, the Koi Carp dance had a similar charm, with dancers suspended on spring ropes performing an exquisite aerial dance that made them look like graceful fish underwater.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The creative act “Start Something New” (别开生面) directed by the renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) was a highlight in the show for its originality. The act, which combined cooking, dancing, and singing, presented various Lunar New Year customs and food cultures from different regions in China. Besides directing films, Zhang Yimou also has a lot of experience as a creative director of major shows, including the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, and the outdoor night show Impression Sanjie Liu.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Xi’an special segment “Poem for the Landscape of Chang’an” (山河诗长安) performed by Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀), Tang Shiyi (唐诗逸), Zhu Tiexiong (朱铁雄) PACT (派克特), Yang Li (杨力) and conductor Sun Yifan (孙一凡), was among the most spectacular ones of the night. This was an ode to Xi’an and Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Li Bai. Filled with lion and dragon performances, opera, rap, dance, and specially arranged music by the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra, the segment included a virtual version of Li Bai joining the spectacle. On social media, netizens praised the performance and posted many gifs of the Chinese actor Zhang Ruoyun together with the virtual version of the classical poet Li Bai.

Watch on Youtube here

 

The ‘Lows’ of the 2024 Gala


 

The various xiaopin (小品, skits) were not very well-received. Over the past few years, the Gala’s dance and song performances have actually become among the most beloved acts – far more popular than the xiaopin, which did not get much positive feedback this year at all. Some people said they just “didn’t get” the humor or that the sketches were just not entertaining enough.

 
The song “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵) was the least viewed part of the show according to viewership ratings, and it marked a departure from tradition in a significant way. Since the 1980s, the final song of the Spring Festival Gala has always been “Unforgettable Night,” sung by Li Guyi (李谷一). Li Guyi rose to fame with the song “Homeland Love” (乡恋) during China’s Reform and Opening Up era, and her songs evoke nostalgia for many viewers. She made her first appearance at the Gala in 1983 and became the most frequent performer at the event. Due to her recovery from Covid in the hospital, she was unable to perform at last year’s Chūnwǎn, and her absence from this year’s show was not only a significant disappointment for many but was also seen as the end of an era. Additionally, many people commented that they did not appreciate the new interpretation of the traditional song.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The PLA song “Decisive Victory” (决胜) drew attention from Taiwanese media outlets, highlighting it as a controversial moment of the Gala. The performance of this military song, delivered by artists from the PLA Cultural and Artistic Center, featured soldiers clad in combat gear marching and dancing on stage, while the backdrop displayed images of rockets, tanks, and other war-like scenes. Taiwanese media framed the song within the context of mainland China’s military threats against Taiwan. Some Weibo commentators also interpreted the performance in this light, particularly noting the sequence where singers from Taiwan and mainland China first sang the song “Etiquette” (礼序) together just before the People’s Liberation Army performed the military song. This was seen as a statement of “diplomacy comes before violence” (“先礼后兵”).

Watch on Youtube here

 

The Noteworthy


 

The magic show “Guarding the New Year Together” (守岁共此时) performed by Liu Qian (刘谦) created quite a buzz. During a card trick involving the audience and Gala host Nëghmet Raxman, it seemed like Raxman’s cards didn’t match as intended. Although everyone was supposed to have matching cards, Raxman’s expression revealed that his two cards did not match. This led to much banter online, and Nëghmet Raxman – and his nervous expression – became a trending topic.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The song “Climbing Spring Mountain” (上春山) performed by Wei Chen (魏晨), Wei Daxun (魏大勋), and Bai Jingting (白敬亭) became one of the most discussed acts in the week following the Gala after a rehearsal video was posted online and netizens noticed inconsistencies in the singers’ attire and positions on stage. It was rumored that Bai Jingting may have intentionally vied for a more prominent position to attract more attention on stage, resulting in choreographic asymmetry and some apparent confusion during the song. One important reason why the main rehearsal video triggered controversy is because a tape of the official rehearsal always runs concurrently with the live broadcast, allowing producers to seamlessly switch to the taped version in the event of a problem or disruption without TV audiences noticing. But because Bai changed his outfit, wearing black while the others wore white, and because he did not give up his main spot during the performance, it might have been impossible for producers to switch to a rehearsed version of the song (even though the lip-syncing during the performance was completely out of sync).

Watch on Youtube here

 
● The song “A Friend Like You” (像你这样的朋友) attracted a lot of attention on Weibo and beyond this week as it was performed by the so-called “0713 Super Boys,” including Wang Zhengliang (王铮亮), Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), Allen Su (苏醒), Zhang Yuan (张远), Lu Hu (陆虎), and Wang Yuexin (王栎鑫). In 2022, these once nearly ‘forgotten’ singers made a remarkable comeback through the reality TV hits Welcome to the Mushroom House (欢迎来到蘑菇屋) and Go for Happiness (快乐再出发). They initially gained fame in 2007 after participating in the singing contest Super Boy but gradually faded into obscurity in the years following their initial success. Their gala performance marks their ultimate comeback.

Watch on Youtube here

 
“Belle” (美人) from the French musical Notre Dame de Paris was performed at the Gala in French by various French and Chinese performers, including Angelo Del Vecchio and Liao Changyong. “Who would have ever expected for Notre Dame de Paris to be performed at the Chūnwǎn in French?” one commenter wrote. The Gala provided some subtitles during the song to convey the general idea of the song. Although the Gala usually incorporates an international element, this was the first time for a song to be fully sung in French. The song was presented in the context of China and France celebrating their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

Watch on Youtube here

 
● Dilraba Dilmurat (丽热巴) in “Dances of Xinjiang” (舞乐新疆) was praised by commenters as the most beautiful performer of the night. The Chinese actress of Uyghur ethnicity showcased her dancing skills during the Kashgar segment of the evening. Not only was her performance notable for its beauty and grace, but it also garnered attention online due to a video recorded by an audience member showing Dilmurat slipping and falling on her bum during the show, after which she promptly got up and continued. After all, the show must go on!

Watch the full performance on Youtube here

Want to know more about the previous editions of the Spring Festival Gala? Also check out our articles below:

– 2023: Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Top 5: The Highlights of China’s 2023 CGM Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Watching ‘Chunwan’: Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2022: Chunwan 2022: The CMG Spring Festival Gala Liveblog by What’s on Weibo
– 2021: Spring Festival Gala Draws Criticism for Gendered Jokes
– 2021: The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: About the CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s ‘Racist’ Africa Comedy Sketch
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: The Best and the Worst of CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 9 Chinese Movies to Watch This Spring Festival Holiday

Lunar New Year lineup: These are the 9 Chinese films competing at the Spring Festival box office.

Manya Koetse

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Over the past decade, China’s domestic film industry has experienced explosive growth, both in terms of production and box office revenue.

When it comes to the latter, the Spring Festival is the most important time of the year for box office success. Especially over the past few years, there has been more media focus on the Spring Festival season as the peak season for top domestic films.

During the Chinese Spring Festival, along with the National Day Holiday, movies tend to earn around 32.3% more on average. Sci-fi and action films are the most successful, followed by comedies (Li et al 2022, 128). Last year, the Spring Festival box office revenues accounted for about 12.3 percent of the yearly total.

Notable films in the Spring Festival lineup of 2023 included Zhang Yimou’s Full River Red (满红红), the sequal to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (流浪地球2), espionage suspense movie Hidden Blade (无名), sports drama Ping Pong: The Triumph (中国乒乓之绝地反击), the comedy Five Hundred Miles (交换人生), animation feature Boonie Bears: Guardian Code (熊出没), and Tian Xiaopeng’s Deep Sea animation film.

Especially the first two movies, Full River Red and Wandering Earth 2, became box office hits, earning a respective RMB4.55 billion ($633 million) and RMB4.03 billion ($561 million).

This year, there are nine big box office movies during the eight-day Chinese New Year’s holiday, and virtually all of them have recently also trended on Chinese social media. Here, we will list all nine of them and what you need to know about them.

 

1. YOLO 热辣滚烫

  • Title: Chinese title: 热辣滚烫 Rèlà Gǔntàng, ‘Sizzling Hot‘; English title: YOLO
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Sports Drama
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Directed by: Jia Ling (贾玲), who previously also directed the 2021 Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) movie.
  • Screenplay by: Sun Jibin (孙集斌), who also did the screenplay for Hi, Mom. The film is based on the Japanese 2014 movie 100 Yen Love (百円の恋, Hyakuen no Koi).
  • Starring: Jia Ling (贾玲), Jia Yinlei (雷佳音), Zhang Xiaofei (张小斐), Yang Zi (杨紫), Sha Yi (沙溢).
  • About: YOLO (热辣滚烫), which will hit Chinese theaters on February 10, tells the story of Le Ying (乐莹), who has withdrawn from social life and isolated herself at home ever since graduation. Trying to get her life back on track, Le Ying meets a boxing coach. The meeting proves to be just the beginning of a new journey in life filled with unforeseen challenges.
  • Trending: Chinese actress and director Jia Ling (贾玲) went trending on Weibo on the day she announced this upcoming movie because of her remarkable weight loss transformation; she lost a staggering 100 pounds (50 kg) for her role in this film.

 

 

2. Pegasus 2 飞驰人生2

  • Title: Chinese title: 飞驰人生2 Fēichí Rénshēng 2, ‘High-speed Life 2‘; English title: Pegasus 2
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Sports Drama
  • Runtime: 121 minutes
  • Directed by: Han Han (韩寒)
  • Screenplay by: Han Han (韩寒).
  • Starring: Shen Teng (沈腾), Fan Chengcheng (范丞丞), Yin Zheng (尹正), Zhang Benyu (张本煜), Sun Yizhou (孙艺洲).
  • About: This is the sequal to Pegasus (2019), the 2019 Spring Festival blockbuster about passionate rally driver Zhang Chi (张驰, played by Shen Tang), who had to step away from racing due to a ban for illegal street racing. But he never gave up on his dream. Now, he’s gearing up for a major comeback, facing new competition. Based on the experiences of Han Han, a talented writer and professional rally driver, and his admiration for racer Xu Lang, Pegasus 2 continues this tale of determination and passion. Zhang Chi, now a driving school instructor, gets a chance to return to the track when offered sponsorship from a car factory to compete in a high-profile racing rally with a team he must assemble.
  • Trending: Pegasus 2 is a much-anticipated movie among Chinese netizens, mainly because of the all-star cast including celebrated actor Shen Teng and young idol Fan Chengcheng. The movie’s January 29 promo event in Beijing also went trending when Fan Chengcheng posted a photo together with the cast members. This post was shared over a million times, receiving more than 100,000 comments.

 

 

3. Article 20 第二十条

Image via Weibo.

  • Title: Chinese title: 第二十条 Dì èrshí tiáo; English title: Article 20
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Family Drama
  • Runtime: 141 minutes
  • Directed by: Zhang Yimou (张艺谋)
  • Screenplay by: Li Meng (李萌).
  • Starring: Lei Jiayin (雷佳音), Ma Li (马丽), Zhao Liying (赵丽颖), Gao Ye (高叶), Liu Yaowen (刘耀文)
  • About: Zhang Yimou’s Article 20 tells the story of prosecutor Han Ming (韩明, Lei Jiayin) who is facing a particularly difficult legal case at work, while navigating complicated situations at home, especially after his son got into a fight with the son of the school leader. As Han Ming strives to balance work and family responsibilities, he courageously fights for fairness and justice in his own way.
  • Trending: As one of China’s most prolific film directors, Zhang Yimou’s work always gets a lot of attention on Chinese social media. This time, some of the Weibo hashtags related to this movie received millions or even billions of views. Especially the young celebrity and teen idol Liu Yaowen (2005) is receiving attention for starring in this film as Han Ming’s son Han Yuchen who beats up the school director’s son and then refuses to apologise. Some online polls asking netizens which movie they’re most excited to see this Spring Festival (投票:你春节打算看哪部电影) also indicate that Article 20 is one of the most anticipated movies on this list.

 

 

4. The Movie Emperor 红毯先生

  • Title: Chinese title: 红毯先生 Hóngtǎn Xiānshēng, ‘Mr. Red Carpet’; English title: The Movie Emperor
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Runtime: 127 minutes
  • Directed by: Zhu Hao (宁浩)
  • Screenplay by: Liu Xiaodan (刘晓丹), Wang Ang (王昂)
  • Starring: Andy Lau (刘德华), Pal Sinn Lap-man (单立文), Rima Zeidan (瑞玛·席丹), Yu Weiguo (余伟国), and Ning Hao (宁浩).
  • About: Andy Lau plays the main character in this film, a renowned Hong Kong film star who is preparing for a major comeback in a rural-themed film. To prepare for his role as a peasant farmer in the 1960s, he immerses himself in rural life in China, which leads to all kinds of bizarre situations that satirically reflect on the present-day entertainment industry.
  • Trending: The Movie Emperor is perhaps among the more serious comedies in this list, as it has a deeper message about the dynamics of the entertainment industry and present-day society. With a career spanning over four decades, there’s perhaps no other actor who’d be more suited to play this character than Andy Lau, and many commenters are looking forward to see him in this role.

 

 

5. Viva La Vida 我们一起摇太阳

Image via Yule 360.

  • Title: Chinese title: 我们一起摇太阳 Wǒmen Yìqǐ Yáo Tàiyáng, ‘Shake the Sun Together’; English title: Viva La Vida
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Romantic comedy-drama
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Directed by: Han Yan (韩延)
  • Screenplay by: Han Yan (韩延), Li Liangwen (李亮文), Wang Xiaoyi (王小艾), Yang Fuzhi (杨富芝)
  • Starring: Peng Yuchang (彭昱畅), Li Gengxi aka Teresa Li (李庚希), Xu Fan (徐帆), Gao Yalin (高亚麟), Liu Dan (刘丹).
  • About: This movie is the third and final movie in the director Han Yan’s “Life Trilogy” of of uplifting films centered around the theme of battling cancer. It follows the successes of the previous hits, Go Away Mr. Tumor and A Little Red Flower, released in 2015 and 2020 respectively. The narrative focuses on the romance between a girl suffering from kidney dysfunction (Teresa Li) and a boy afflicted with a brain tumor (Peng Yuchang). Despite their contrasting personalities, they find unity in their shared struggles with illness, embarking on a journey that celebrates the essence of life.
  • Trending: These days, movie production teams are doing all they can to go trending on social media to increase the hype surrounding their films. In light of their promotional activities, actor Peng Yuchang went to Tianjin to join the ‘diving grandpa’s’ (#彭昱畅和天津大爷一块跳水#). This is a group of elderly swimmers who went viral in 2023 because of their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). People joked about Peng swimming in the cold river, saying they had “never seen a male lead work so hard to promote their film.”

 

 

6. Boonie Bears: Time Twist 熊出没:逆转时空

Image via Moonlight Media

  • Title: Chinese title: 熊出没:逆转时空 Xióng Chūmò: Nìzhǔan Shíkōng; English title: Boonie Bears: Time Twist
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy sci-fi animation
  • Runtime: 108 minutes
  • Directed by: Lin Huida (林汇达)
  • Screenplay by: Xu Yun (徐芸), Wan Qin (万秦), Jiang Lin (蒋琳)
  • Starring: Tan Xiao (谭笑), Zhang Bingjun (张秉君), Zhang Wei (张伟), Zhang Ming (张茗)
  • About: This latest film from the Boonie Bears universe revolves around the stressed-out white-collar worker Vick (光头强), who has left his small town and forest job for a career in the big city. However, his absence has some far-reaching consequences. When he accompanies his boss on a work trip, he embarks on an adventure through time and space, that’s all about exploring life goals and finding self-fulfillment.
  • Trending: While this film may not be among the top trending movies this Spring Festival season, it’s still a beloved choice for both Boonie Bears fans and parents who want to take their kids to the movies this holiday. This is also a special Boonie Bears year, as it marks both the 12th anniversary of the Chinese “Boonie Bears” cartoon franchise and the 10th anniversary of the first feature film, “Boonie Bears: To the Rescue” (熊出没之夺宝熊兵).

 

 

7. Ba Jie 八戒之天蓬下界

Image via Xigua.

  • Title: Chinese title: 八戒之天蓬下界 Bājiè zhī Tiānpéng Xiàjiè; English title: Article 20
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Animated fantasy adventure
  • Runtime: 88 minutes
  • Directed by: He Ranhao (何冉昊)
  • Screenplay by: Li Meng (李萌).
  • Starring: Zhang Lei (张磊), Ji Guanlin (季冠霖), Zhao Mingzhou (赵明洲), Gao Zengzhi (高增志), Ma Dehua (马德华)
  • About: This is the first animated film in China about Ba Jie, a renowned character from the 16th-century novel Journey to the West (西游记) who is known for being part human and part pig – as well as being lazy and gluttonous. Presented as a quintessentially Chinese animation film, Ba Jie is not just a contemporary adaptation of a Chinese classic, it also embraces a style and color palette that builds on Chinese tradition. Originally announced for release in 2021 for 2022, coinciding with the Year of the Pig, the movie was then rescheduled for 2023, and now is finally making its premiere in the Year of the Dragon. Ma Dehua (马德华), who played Ba Jie in the famous 1986 “Journey to the West” TV series is also a voice actor in this film.
  • Trending: The fact that this film was delayed and is already three years old by the time it hits cinemas does not exactly add to its appeal. Many people feel like they’ve seen the film posters again and again, and that its momentum has already passed.

 

 

8. Broken Mission 破战

Image via QQ.

  • Title: Chinese title: 破战 Pò Zhàn, ‘Break War’; English title: Broken Mission
  • Premiere: February 16, 2024
  • Genre: Drama / Action / Suspense
  • Runtime: 86 minutes
  • Directed by: Peng Fa aka Danny Pang (彭发)
  • Screenplay by: Peng Fa (彭发)
  • Starring: Wu Zhenyu (吴镇宇), Simon Yam (任达华), Cheng Yuanyuan (程媛媛), Tang Wenlong (唐文龙), Liu Yingyi (刘颖仪).
  • About: Although this movie won’t hit cinemas until February 16, it’s still considered a Spring Festival movie. Set in Hong Kong, this action-packed film revolves around the confrontation between the local police team and a criminal committing crimes in service to his “Savior.” The filming already started in 2019, and because of the big delay – partly due to many revisions in the script – the movie seems to have lost some of its relevance.
  • Trending: Together with Ba Jie, Broken Mission is among the least popular movies in this list. There have also been very few promotional activities surrounding the premiere. In an online poll asking netizens which movies they anticipated most, these two received the least votes. YOLO and Article 20 received the most votes. Given its lack of popularity, some netizens propose that the movie should bypass cinemas entirely and go directly to online streaming services instead.

 

 

9. Huang Pi: God of Wealth Cat 黄貔:天降财神猫

Image via Weibo.

  • Title: Chinese title: 黄貔:天降财神猫 Huáng Pí: Tiānjiàng cáishén māo; English title: Huang Pi / God of Wealth Cat or God of Money
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Animation/Comedy
  • Runtime: 82 minutes
  • Directed by: Bai Ding (白丁) and Guan Yang (关杨)
  • Starring: Li Meng (李盟), Yan Nan (闫楠), Wang Zi (王梓), Yang Tianxiang (杨天翔), Liu Yike (刘依可).
  • About: Inspired by Monkey King Wreaks Havoc in Heaven, this Mandarin-Cantonese bilingual animated movie revolves around Huang Pi, who is transformed into a cat by the Four Heavenly Kings after causing trouble in the Heavenly Palace. In order to repay the kindness of the God of wealth who rescues him, Huang Pi descents to the mortal world with his five incarnations. Here, he faces various challenges, one of which involves being mistaken for a stray cat by a pet hospital owner.
  • Trending: The ‘lucky cat’ theme and Chinese artistic influences makes this movie a suitable one for the Spring Festival, with many people and animation fans anticipating its premiere.

 

By Manya Koetse

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References

Li, Xuefei, Hua Lu, Chengzhong Wu. 2022. “The Destiny of Movies’ Box Office Performance in China: An Expectation–Evaluation Model.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 52(2): 117-135.

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