WHEN LESS IS MORE
China’s annual Film Critics’ Choice Awards have been given to five films instead of 10, Han Bingbin reports.
China’s status as the world’s second-largest film market and Chinese cinema’s increasing diversity aren’t satisfying local critics, who, while applauding their favorite films of last year, say the quality of films made in China needs to improve.
Black Coal, Thin Ice, a crime thriller that won the best picture award at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in 2014, also took first place at the Film Critics’ Choice Awards hosted by the China Film Association.
The annual awards are judged by a panel of 80 independent and media-based film critics. Now in its eighth year, the awards this year were downsized from a previous top 10 list to only five best films.
Other than the thriller, Peter Chan’s Dearest, Lou Ye’s Blind Massage, Zhang Yimou’s ComingHome, TsuiHark’s TheTaking of Tiger Mountain ( juxtaposed with Coming Home) and Ann Hui’s The Golden Era were declared this year’s winners.
When announcing the awards on May 12, the China Film Association also launched its annual reports on both Chinese film art and film industry. The findings particularly highlighted the increasing diversity of Chinese movies and, as expected, China’s new role as the world’s second-largest film market with total box-office revenues of 29.6 billion yuan ($4.77 billion) in 2014.
Some 16 billion yuan was made by 259 Chinese productions, eight of which earned more than 500 million yuan with the highest, Breakup Buddies, grossing over 1.1 billion yuan. About half of that exhilarating figure, however, is contributedby70imported movies, mostly fromHollywood.
It is still hard to say whether local productions can achieve more than 50 percent share of the Chinese market this year, says the association’s secretary general Rao Shuguang, with the latest Fast and Furious installment already posing a great challenge by grossing more than 2 billion yuan in China.
“With Chinese cinema going through reform and China on the way to becoming a powerful filmmaking industry, it is particularly important to help Chinese cinema grow in a healthier and more sustainable way,” Rao says. “It will require us to produce films that are not only competitive in the market but also have cultural depth.”
Many criticsworry thatsome emerging trends have already started to turn Chinese films into shallow entertainment. Examples include the muchcriticized adaptions of popular reality TV shows, the unconventional remake of “red classics” (revolutionary epics) and what appears most alarming to film observers, the influence of cyber culture.
The catchphrase now in Chinese cinema is IP, or intellectual property, which refers to any popular online product such as a novel, game or even a song that can be developed into a potentially successful feature-length film.
“The Internet’s influence now can be seen not only in the art form but also in the shooting techniques of many productions,” says YinHong, a media professor at Tsinghua University and chair of the film association’s critic unit. “It can help a movie gain quick recognition among younger audiences and bring a ‘grassroots feel’ to films.”
But the industry’s belief in the Internet as a guarantee of their products’ popularity have become so obsessive that there’s no room left for creating the real culturally meaningful products, says Beijing Film Academy’s senior professorHuang Shixian.
The allegedly biased screening schedules of theaters these days have also caused some filmmakers to worry that it may squeeze the space for arthouse productions and other films with serious subjects.
In a recent post on his micro blog, directorWang Xiaoshuai complained his award-winning film Red Amnesia was getting too few screenings in cinemas. He said now is the “best time for commercial films and worst for serious productions”.
This change is, however, based on how theaters view their target audiences, which nowconsist of a growing number of teenagers, according to film columnist Yu Xin.
As a part of people’s leisure, says veteran cinematographer Liang Ming, film is simply an entertainment product and should find away to respect the market even when it’s looking to demonstrate some cultural depth.
In terms of creating more space for serious productions, maybe China can learn from the United States, where films — especially art productions — have a much longer screening period so that their building reputation can bring bigger audiences, says analyst Peng Kan of LegendMedia.
France even has a policy that the screenings of a single movie should remain no more than one-third the total number of screenings at a movie hall, according to Peng.
Or the scenario can be altered to nurture the tastes of future audiences.
“Whycan’twebring cinemas into universities and show more art films?” says Yu.
“They are the mainstream audiences of the future. Their tastes will largely decide the quality of Chinese films, even world films, in the future.” Contact the writer at hanbingbin@ chinadaily.com.cn
BlackCoal,ThinIce, starring Liao Fan (left) and Gwei Lun-mei, ranks top among the winners of this year’s Film Critics’ Choice Awards.