BACK TO BA­SICS New re­port urges Chi­nese film­mak­ers to pro­duce more qual­ity con­tent for box-of­fice suc­cess.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

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@ chi­


Three Chi­nese films (top), (above left) and

— are rec­om­mended by the crit­ics com­mit­tee of the China Film As­so­ci­a­tion.

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