BACK TO BASICS New report urges Chinese filmmakers to produce more quality content for box-office success.
The lack of quality content in some Chinese films is leading to their poor box-office performance, according to the 2017 Report of Chinese Film Art.
The report, which was compiled by the China Film Association, was released last week. It points out that many Chinese filmmakers tend to develop storylines based on investor requirements, such as a high-paid star cast, lots of visual effects and the related publicity campaign, rather than focus more on creative efforts.
“With huge capital being infused into the film industry, a director’s role has weakened,” the report says. “Producers have a greater say.”
Chinese films made 10.4 billion yuan ($1.54 billion) at the country’s box office in the first six months of the year, comprising 39 percent of total ticket sales, according to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.
“The time to rely on box-office surprises is over,” says Yin Hong, a professor of media at Tsinghua University and the report’s lead author.
“China needs more quality films rather than only a few success stories to lead the industry.”
While it is a general trend in Chinese cinema to make films based on true stories or re-adaptations of classic productions, such films when produced in bulk do not achieve the desired results as seen from many unsuccessful attempts, he says.
Last week, the critics committee behind the report voted Operation Mekong as a highly recommendable film of 2016.
The film is based on a true incident in 2011, when two Chinese cargo ships were attacked on the Mekong River by a drug-trafficking gang. Later, China launched a crossborder manhunt to bring the gang leader to justice.
The film did very well at the box-office, which the report says was due to a combination of patriotism and humanity that it shows.
Zhang Wei, deputy head of the critics committee at China OperationMekong Film Association, attributes some current difficulties in domestic filmmaking to the genre that tries to copy popular films.
“After nostalgic youththemed films became popular a few years ago, big screens were full of such productions but the audience got bored after a few,” says Zhang.
“Now that genre is almost dead.”
He says Chinese studios should have better planning SongofthePhoenix when developing story ideas.
“Hollywood studios have detailed plans about films they are going to shoot and have clear business plans.”
Liu Fan, a researcher with the Chinese National Academy of Arts, says filmmakers’ dependence on intellectual property for adaptations is another reason for the box-office setback.
“Fans of the original works (mainly novels) cannot continuously support such film KailiBlues adaptations,” Liu says.
“And when the IP bubble gets bigger, some screenwriters get careless and ruin the original stories.”
Love O2O, adapted from a popular online novel, and L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties, a fantasy derived from a popular novel, encountered huge losses at the box office.
“Their failure has warned film investors that a cobbledup IP production with popular young actors won’t always make money,” says Raymond Zhou, an independent film industry analyst on the critics committee.
He says even until a couple of years ago, critical appreciation did not mean commercial success for Chinese films.
“When some works were highly rated by professional critics, they usually did badly in the market,” he recalls.
“The public saw such films as harder to understand.”
But the situation has changed after poor productions swarmed the market in recent times.
“People will not choose a film simply for a big star, and public praise for films is playing an important role at the box office,” says Zhou.
“It’s a good thing for our audiences to cherish good films.”
In 2016, the satirical comedy Mr. Donkey, which is adapted from a stage play, and Song of the Phoenix, which focuses on inheritance of traditional folklore, were both considered good within a small circle but they turned out to be commercially successful.
Paths of the Soul, following some Tibetan villagers’ pilgrimage to a sacred mountain, premiered in June, and even set a record at the box office — in art-house film history — earning more than 100 million yuan.
Filmgoers in China now frequently refer to popular review websites like Douban to check a film’s quality before going to cinemas.
Liu Jun, a researcher with the Beijing Film Academy, says such guidance is also helpful to filmmakers in finding typical Chinese stories for the big screen while avoiding being repetitive.
“We’ve seen too many historical or fantasy films in recent years,” he says. “Our filmmakers can say something more about Chinese wisdom or bravery in handling modern issues. They can reflect the big picture of our times.”
Contact the writer at wangkaihao@ chinadaily.com.cn
Three Chinese films (top), (above left) and
— are recommended by the critics committee of the China Film Association.