Movies - Foreign postsWednesday April 18, 2018
Yet Another Reason to Love French Film
This is a gangster. From a gangster movie.
Chinese Box Office: Bragging About a Rigged Game
A “different form of national pride”? Or “Rambo” with a Chinese face?
Wu Haiyun has a piece on the website Sixth Tone, which is for “Fresh Voices from Today's China,” and her point is as obvious as the headline:
Why Chinese Filmgoers Don't Buy Hollywood's Values Anymore: Well-worn Western tropes of individualism and liberalism fail to resonate with audiences embracing a different form of national pride
Quite the mouthful.
According to her bio, Wu is an editor at Sixth Tone, she has a Ph.D., and she was a visiting fellow at the Harvard-Yenching Institute. And her piece is misleading. It's so misleading it amounts to propaganda.
She begins by talking up China's role as the world's No. 1 movie market. To give perspective: This year, with the release of “Black Panther,” the domestic market in North America had a good February, grossing just over $1 billion, a record for that month. The domestic market in China? According to Wu, it grossed $1.6 billion, which would be a record for any month in North America. That China is now, or nearly is, the world's No. 1 movie market is not in dispute. Nor is it disputed that most of those new February movies in China were domestic releases: “Operation Red Sea,” “Detective Chinatown 2,” “Monster Hunt 2.”
Here's what's disputed. She writes:
In March, major Hollywood titles like “Black Panther,” “The Shape of Water,” “Tomb Raider,” “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” and “Ready Player One” all premiered in the country. In the absence of any major domestic releases, the monthly sales of 51.6 billion yuan were only about half of February's figure.
Right. And in the absence of Chinese New Year, too.
That's the key. Seriously, who among her readers doesn't know this? In terms of moviegoing, February in China is like summertime or Christmastime in the states. Everyone is off for a week, everyone has leisure, everyone goes to the movies. It's prime movie real estate. And it‘s not available to Hollywood movies.
During Chinese New Year, as well as the summer months, the Chinese government, for years now, has instituted what it calls “domestic film protection periods,” or what the U.S. press calls “Hollywood blackout periods.” No new foreign releases are allowed. That’s why all those Hollywood movies Wu listed above were released in March. February was off limits. You want to see a new Hollywood movie during Chinese New Year? 没有了。Go to the states.
Wu mentions this, yes, but passingly, and without specifying when such policies are in place. She brings it up to dismiss it. “These claims are overblown,” she writes. “Chinese audiences, not the Chinese government, are turning their noses up at Hollywood.”
If that's true, why have the protectionist policies in the first place? Why not allow Hollywood movies to be released during Chinese New Year, to compete with “Monster Hunt 2,” or during the summer months, to compete with “Wolf Warrior II”? Instead, China clears the field. During its most lucrative months, it runs races with just the Chinese and then brags that the Chinese won.
Wu's article is full of other misleading ideas about movies and box office. She brings up the poor Chinese performance of U.S. Oscar nominees such as “Moonlight” and “The Shape of Water,” as if this is a rejection of western values (feminism, LGBT rights), and as if these movies did boffo box office in the states. They didn‘t. Oscar nominees/winners rarely do. Serious films rarely do. Not for decades now. It’s sad but it's mostly global. People go see crap.
Hell, look at the Hollywood movies that do well in China: the “Fast and Furious” franchise; “Transformers”; and the video-game adaptation “Warcraft,” which the U.S. market rejected hugely ($47 million, domestic), but which did 很棒 in China ($230 million). What does that say about Chinese values? Do we fathom a guess? Would Wu like the answer?
The truly awful thing about the article? Wu didn't have to juke the stats. Her basic premise is correct. Chinese audiences are flocking to Chinese movies more than to Hollywood movies, and I don't think it's just because of protectionism. I think it's because Chinese production values are now at such a level as to compete with Hollywood‘s. The absolutist storylines are similar, too. The difference is the faces. It’s their faces now. It's their country and language. And who wouldn't want to see their face, their country, their language, up on the screen, in well-produced wish-fulfillment fantasy, after years of seeing only the other kind?
To me it's that simple. It's so simple only a Ph.D. could miss it.
'Wolf Warrior II' Kicks Ass in China
Leng Feng: Wearing the flag on his sleeve.
I have another piece up on Salon. Apologies in advance for all the ads on the site.
The piece is about the massive box-office success of “Wolf Warrior II,” a Chinese production that opened July 27 and has thus far grossed more than $850 million worldwide—good enough to become the first non-Hollywood movie to break into the top 100 movies in terms of worldwide box office. It's 57th with a bullet. And almost all of it ($848) from China alone. It hasn't traveled well but it hasn't needed to.
My piece is about why it might have gone into the box-office stratosphere the way it did. Was it word of mouth or was it a presidential loud mouth? Our president, not theirs. It's actually fairly intriguing and required a bit of digging.
I'll have a review of the film up in the next week. Basically “Wolf II” is a not-bad version of a kind of movie I don't like: It's “Rambo”ish. Its slams at America are interesting to watch but its portrayal of local Africans is beyond problematic. You have work to do, China, particularly if you want to rake in the money internationally.
Hollywood to Remake Audiard's 'Un Prophete'
Columbia Pictures and parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment have optioned the English language rights to remake “Rust and Bone” director Jacques Audiard's much-celebrated 2009 French crime thriller “A Prophet”...
Be prepared for a mainstream Hollywood remake, because the English-language version of this super-gritty piece of cinema realism will be produced by producers Neal H. Moritz and Toby Jaffe through Moritz's Original Film, whose filmography includes this year's “Fast and Furious 6” and “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
It's worse than that. Among Moritz's production credits, these films:
- Total Recall (2012)
- The Change-Up
- Battle Los Angeles
- The Green Hornet
- Vantage Point
- Gridiron Gang
Plus all of the Fast und Furious movies. And he's remaking my favorite film of 2010.
At one point in “Un Prophete,” a fellow inmate tells Malik (Tahir Rahim), “The idea is to leave here a little smarter." I don't think that'll be possible in the Hollywood version.
Malik (Tahar Rahim) and Cesar (Neils Arestrup) contemplate the American remake of their Cesar-winning film.
The Best Film of 2012, 'Rust and Bone,' Out on DVD
“De rouille et d’os” (“Rust and Bone”) is a beautiful film about tragic circumstances. In the hands of a lesser writer-director, it would be melodrama but Jacques Audiard (“Un Prophete”) makes poetry out of it. A bloody tooth, loosened during a fight, spins in slow motion on the pavement as if in dance. A woman whose legs have been cut off above the knee returns to the ocean, whose warm waters glisten. Later, with metal legs and cane, she walks down the steps at Marineland, where she once worked, and stands in silence before a large glass tank. She pats the glass once, twice. After a moment, a monster looms into view. An Orca. The Orca? The one who took her legs? One assumes not. One assumes that one has been killed but you never know and Audiard never says. We simply watch the whale move with her movements. It’s been trained, and she was one of its trainers. She’s confronting her past, finally, but it’s also a moment steeped in silence and mystery and beauty and forgiveness. It’s the best scene of 2012.
And here is the cover of the U.S. DVD:
WTF? Seriously, out of all of the beautiful, haunting images in that film, that's what they choose? This shot? This shot that isn't even a shot from the movie? Anyone know who decides these things? Why they went with this? Why not any of these other shots?
Here's what the DVD looks like, front and back, in France:
C'est mieux comme ça.