Movies - Foreign postsSaturday March 30, 2019
Fan Bingbing Zai Nali?
Remember last summer when Fan Bingbing, one of China's biggest and most visible movie stars, suddenly disappeared? And no one knew where and no one said shit? Then she resurfaced in October and it turned out to have something to do with taxes? Well, May Jeong at Vanity Fair has the story.
Not the complete story, mind you. It's still amorphous: why things happen when. Bad behavior, even illegal behavior, is OK until it isn‘t. Reminds me a bit of Taiwan when I lived there in the ’80s. They called it, I believe,公的秘密: gongde mimi; public secrets. For example, I was there on a student visa but I worked at a bushiban, or cram school, teaching ESL, because everybody did, and because the authorities wanted its citizens to learn English. So everyone always looked the other way. Until they didn‘t. Until the authorities knuckled down on the foreigners with their student visas in order to find the bushibans that weren’t paying their taxes.
I think that's how it went anyway.
Who knows what the real thinking is at the top levels of the Chinese government right now? Ten years ago, Xi Jinping wanted Chinese movies to be more like Hollywood movies, and just when he seems to be getting his wish—even though Chinese movies never do well abroad like American movies—he's cracking down on the stars. He's doing what right-wing nutjobs would like to do to Hollywood.
Some of the information that's leaked out seems designed to titilate readers as much as scare other movie stars:
According to the South China Morning Post, she had been held under a form of detention known as “residential surveillance,” at a holiday resort in a suburb of Jiangsu. The system was instituted in 2012, under President Xi Jinping, making it legal for the Chinese secret police to detain anyone charged with endangering state security or committing corruption and hold them at an undisclosed location for up to six months without access to lawyers or family members. Sources close to Fan told me that she had been picked up by plainclothes police. While under detention, she was forbidden to make public statements or use her phone. She wasn't given a pen or paper to write with, nor allowed any privacy, even when taking showers.
And it's not just movie stars:
Under Xi's crackdown, tens of thousands of people have disappeared into the maw of the police state. An eminent TV news anchor was taken away hours before going on air. A retired professor with views critical of the government was dragged away during a live interview on Voice of America. A billionaire was abducted from his private quarters in the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. Other high-profile disappearances include Interpol president Meng Hongwei in September, photojournalist Lu Guang in November, two Canadians who went missing in December, as well as the writer Yang Hengjun, who went missing in January. “The message being sent out is that nobody is too tall, too big, too famous, too pretty, too whatever,” said Steve Tsang, who runs the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
Not since the Cultural Revolution have artists in China been as wary of the state, and as aware of the necessity of appeasing it.
Chinese Box Office, Addendum
Leng Feng beat Americans in “Wolf Warrior II” but at the box office he sidestepped Hollywood for 28 days.
Been thinking about this post more. Wu Haiyun is arguing that the boffo box office for Chinese films indicates a rejection of western values of individualism and liberalism in favor of the following Chinese values: “collective effort, patriotism, and self-sacrifice for the cause of national rejuvenation.”
She also argues that periods in which the Chinese government don't allow new foreign films to be shown, called “Hollywood blackout periods” or, in China, “Domestic Film Protection Month,” have nothing to do with this rejection of western and embrace of Chinese values.
Chinese audiences, not the Chinese government, are turning their noses up at Hollywood.
And yet ...
Here are the highest-grossing domestic movies in China, along with how long they were protected from U.S. competition:
|Film||Dom. $$||Release date||Days w/o US comp|
|Wolf Warior II||$854||Jul. 29, 2017||28|
|Operation Red Sea||$579||Feb. 16, 2018||14|
|Detective Chinatown 2||$541||Feb. 16, 2018||14|
|The Mermaid||$526||Feb. 12, 2016||14|
|Monster Hunt||$381||Jul. 16, 2015||0|
|Monster Hunt 2||$356||Feb. 16, 2018||14|
|Never Day Die||$334||Sept. 29, 2017||21|
|The Ex-File 3||$306||Dec. 29, 2017||7|
|Kung Fu Yoga||$254||Jan. 27, 2017||14|
|Mojin: The Lost Legend||$255||Dec. 18, 2015||21|
|Journey to the West 2||$239||Jan. 27, 2017||14|
|Lost in Hong Kong||$234||Sept. 21, 2015||14|
|Goodbye Mr. Loser||$226||Sept. 21, 2015||14|
Only one movie, the original “Monster Hunt,” went head-to-head against a Hollywood competitor. Well, “Hollywood.” It was “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” so really more Brit than U.S. After that, “Monster” had more than a month without a Hollywood competitor until “Terminator: Genisys” showed up in late August. As is the case for most of the above.
Wu might also want to respond to an article on “What's on Weibo,” the Chinese social media site, that indicates that not all Chinese filmgoers necessarily want self-sacrifice; some want Hollywood movies. They want the blackout periods to end.
Bottom line: We‘ll never know how true Wu Haiyun’s words are until China actually gets rid of Domestic Film Protection Month.
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.