Film sub­ject more im­por­tant than stars

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS - Film­mak­ers must work on a wide va­ri­ety of top­ics In­dus­try may im­prove with deeper re­form

Edi­tor's Note: China’s movie box of­fice reached a record 60.98 bil­lion yuan ($8.88 bil­lion) last year, up 9 per­cent from 2017, with do­mes­tic movies ac­count­ing for 62.5 per­cent of the to­tal, ac­cord­ing to the State Film Ad­min­is­tra­tion. What new fea­tures and trends were vis­i­ble in Chi­nese films, and how can do­mes­tic film­mak­ers im­prove their prod­ucts in the fu­ture? Two ex­perts share their views on the is­sue with China Daily’s Yao Yuxin. Ex­cerpts fol­low:

The box of­fice has set a new record, but it may hit the ceil­ing at 80 bil­lion yuan in the next few years, as the num­bers of cin­e­mas and on-screen movies have nearly reached a sat­u­ra­tion point.

Since the num­ber of cin­e­mas in the coun­try is lim­ited, just about more than 20 per­cent of the movies made can be screened ev­ery year. Al­though the sit­u­a­tion has im­proved with the num­ber of movie screens across China reach­ing 60,079 from 50,776 in 2017, the av­er­age at­ten­dance in cin­e­mas has been rel­a­tively low since 2008, at times drop­ping to as low as 15 per­cent.

Worse, since cin­ema chains have mush­roomed in ar­eas that have seen a real es­tate boom only re­cently, they are not free of the bub­ble that ex­ists in the prop­erty in­dus­try. Some cin­ema chains have even gone bank­rupt.

So now the need is to en­sure the cin­e­mas are used to the op­ti­mum level, by at­tract­ing more view­ers, which would al­low more do­mes­tic movies to be

screened and more film­mak­ers to face the au­di­ence and box of­fice test.

It’s worth not­ing that in re­cent years, even very ex­pen­sive films ei­ther based on pop­u­lar nov­els or show­cas­ing big celebri­ties have not fared well at the box of­fice. On the other hand, the over­whelm­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Wolf War­riors and Op­er­a­tion Red Sea re­flect China’s grow­ing na­tional power and its grad­ual rise as a soft power.

Be­sides, to­day’s youths are in­ter­ested in movies with re­al­is­tic top­ics, which are closely con­nected to their own life. For ex­am­ple, Dy­ing to Sur­vive, a film on a group of peo­ple fight­ing against can­cer, has won ex­cel­lent re­views, and was the third-high­est rev­enue earner at the box of­fice last year.

The pop­u­lar­ity of such movies sug­gests our film­mak­ers need to work on a wide va­ri­ety of top­ics, in­stead of bank­ing on stars in a bid to earn prof­its. The sub­ject, imagination, treat­ment and tech­nique are more im­por­tant than even the big­gest star for a movie. For ex­am­ple, Dan­gal, an In­dian movie re­leased in 2016, won all-round

praise for its sub­ject and treat­ment both of which were highly re­lat­able to the Chi­nese peo­ple. Dan­gal also showed that Chi­nese film­mak­ers lack imagination, as they are yet to make a film on sports that the peo­ple can eas­ily re­late to.

Sun Ji­ashan, a re­searcher at the Chi­nese Na­tional Academy of Arts

China’s record box of­fice in 2018 is the fruit of the devel­op­ment of the cultural in­dus­try dur­ing the 40 years of re­form and open­ing-up.

Al­though un­pre­dictable changes in the global sit­u­a­tion have low­ered some ex­pec­ta­tions from China’s film in­dus­try, es­pe­cially as it could be sub­jected to new reg­u­la­tions, we could still be con­fi­dent Chi­nese au­di­ences would re­main as en­thu­si­as­tic about films and other forms of en­ter­tain­ment. In fact, more peo­ple could end up watch­ing films to di­vert their at­ten­tion from the grow­ing un­cer­tain­ties.

Be­sides, the cultural in­dus­try’s abil­ity to

over­come pres­sure and adapt to a new en­vi­ron­ment should not be un­der­es­ti­mated, as it could turn a com­plex and chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion into an ad­van­tage by ex­hibit­ing more cre­ativ­ity and pro­duc­ing bet­ter-qual­ity movies.

The United States’ box of­fice of $12 bil­lion last year was also a record, but it was achieved mainly by rais­ing ticket prices rather than higher au­di­ence at­ten­dance.

In con­trast, China has enough room to ex­plore the cultural pur­suit of mid­dle-in­come groups and res­i­dents of third- and fourth-tier cities to in­crease box of­fice rev­enues.

But the box of­fice is not the sole bench­mark of judg­ing whether a film in­dus­try has im­proved. In­stead, the qual­ity of its devel­op­ment, es­pe­cially the kind of movies it makes, should be the fo­cus in the next phase of its tran­si­tion.

Hope­fully, fur­ther re­form and openingup will help the film in­dus­try pro­duce high-qual­ity movies.

Zhang Yiwu, a pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture at Pek­ing Univer­sity

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