AFTERSHOCK, FOUNDING OF THE REPUBLIC AND OTHER POPULAR CHINESE COMMERCIAL MOVIES

AFTERSHOCK, CHINA’S TOP GROSSING FILM IN 2010

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“Aftershock”(2010) is the most popular Chinese blockbuster in history. It has broken every box office record in China and established itself as the dominant Chinese cinematic event of this very early Chinese century. Directed by Feng Xiaogang, it tells the story of a mother's emotional reunion with her daughter, three decades after a 1976 earthquake devastated the Chinese city of Tangshan, killing more than 240,000 people.

“Aftershock” earned more than 100 million yuan (about $30 million ) within three days of its release, breaking the Chinese box office record previously held by “The Founding of a Republic”. The figure did not include the movie's earnings from IMAX screenings.The Founding of a Republic, which earned a total box office of 420 million yuan, took three and a half days to earn 100 million. By the end of summer of 2010 it earned $79 million.[Source: Xinhua, Global Times, July 27, 2010]

“Aftershock” was first Chinese movie to be screened in IMAX and the first Chinese movie to be made in partnership with IMAX, the Canadian company that specializes in huge-screen projections, and it’s expected to show on IMAX screens all over the world. “Our collaboration will promote the blossoming radiance of Chinese films on the world stage,” proclaimed Wang Dongjun, the chief executive of Huayi Brothers, the main Chinese partner in the production of “Aftershock”. [Source: Richard Bernstein, New York Times, August 11, 2010]

Describing the opening of “Aftershock”, Richard Bernstein of the New York Times wrote: “First you see a tremendous swarm of dragonflies, which is one of those odd natural phenomena believed to prefigure an earthquake. Then there are some modest scenes of domestic life in the Chinese city of Tangshan on July 27, 1976. An unsuspecting brother and sister squabble over a single tomato, until their mother settles the dispute by giving it to the boy...Then at 3:42 a.m. on July 28, unmitigated disaster strikes...Buildings shake, the earth splits apart, bricks, concrete slabs and roofs cascade downward as a city of one million people is reduced to rubble in the space of 23 seconds. Among the victims are the two children we’ve already met, pinioned under a concrete slab, covered in dust, their lives ebbing away.” [Ibid]

Good Websites and Sources: dGenerate Films dGenerate Films is a New York-based distribution company that collects post-Sixth Generation independent Chinese cinema. The site Chinese Films http://www.chinesefilms.cn features news, film release dates, cast and crew details and plot outlines. There are also links to Chinese studios and the websites of film-makers, as well as independent English language reviews of movies. Chinese Movie Database dianying.com ; Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com/ ; Shelly Kraicer’s Chinese Cinema site chinesecinemas.org ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Resource List mclc.osu.edu ; iFilm Connections---Asia and Pacific asianfilms.org ; Love Asia Film loveasianfilm.com ; Journal of Chinese Cinemas intellectbooks.co.uk ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Cinema Wikipedia ; Senses of Cinema sensesofcinema.com ; Film in China (Chinese Government site) china.org.cn ; Directory of Interent Sources newton.uor.edu ; Chinese, Japanese, and Korean CDs and DVDs at Yes Asia yesasia.com and Zoom Movie zoommovie.com ; Wikipedia List of Chinese Filmmakers Wikipedia ; Chen Kaige at They Shoot Pictures Don’t They theyshootpictures.com ; Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, See Separate Article Expert on Chinese film: Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California.

Links in this Website: CHINESE FILM INDUSTRY Factsanddetails.com/China ; HONG KONG MOVIE INDUSTRY Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE FILM MAKERS AND THEIR FILMS Factsanddetails.com/China ; ZHANG YIMOU AND ANG LEE Factsanddetails.com/China ; HONG KONG FILM MAKERS AND THEIR FILMS Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOREIGN FILMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE FILM ACTORS Factsanddetails.com/China ; JACKIE CHAN Factsanddetails.com/China ; BRUCE LEE AND JET LI Factsanddetails.com/China ;

Book: “Speaking in Images: Interviews With Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers” by Berry, associate professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies at UC Santa Barbara

Aftershock Story


Aftershock trailer “Aftershock” tells the story of the survivors of one of China’s greatest natural disasters, the Tangshan Earthquake of 1976. What starts as a disaster movie of Titanic proportions---the special effects go far beyond shaky-cam earthquake pics of old---moves quickly to something more deeply moving: a full-throated classical family melodrama that has become famous for provoking rivers of tears from Chinese audiences. [Source: Shelly Kraicer, Chinese Cinema Digest]

Shelly Kraicer wrote in the Chinese Cinema Digest: “When the earthquake strikes, father Daqing is immediately crushed, and mother Yuanni (Xu Fan, whose range, from subtle drama to full-throated melo acting, is impressive) is forced to make an awful (and thoroughly melodramatic) choice. Her young son Fang Da and daughter Fang Deng are pinned under a slab of concrete: saving one means sacrificing the other. Though both survive, Fang Deng hears her mother’s choice, and the family is sundered. Mother, son, and daughter, against the background of thirty years of Chinese history, must find the emotional pathways that allow them to reconnect with each other.” [Ibid]

“As I’ve written elsewhere, a film can’t be this overwhelmingly successful in contemporary China without simultaneously working as irresistible commercial cinema, crafty propaganda, subtle national-historical myth making, cathartic weepie, and subtly incisive social critique. Feng’s brilliance is to make it all happen together, inside one movie. Of course, a film of this scale in China today, with the Tangshan city government as one of its official producers, can’t avoid participating in the language of power. And it certainly does that, more subtly in the Tangshan earthquake section of the film, and more egregiously in the Wenchuan episode.” [Ibid]

“In fact, the Chinese government in 1976 was in the last stages of the Cultural Revolution, before Chairman Mao’s death, and was widely criticized for its insufficient mobilization immediately following the earthquake. Aftershock does show (counter to the actual historical record) heroic Red Army troupes massing like clockwork pageantry outside of Tangshan and coming to the rescue. On the other hand, the detailed action shows citizens rescuing citizens, not hero-soldiers doing the job. They come in later. Feng has it both ways: if you are looking with official eyes for an acceptable images reinforcing the official (false) history, they are there. If you are looking for details that fit with real, remembered events, they are there too.” [Ibid]

“As I said, Wenchuan in 2008 gets a far more standardized treatment in Aftershock, with government forces, now abetted by generous rescue-capitalists (in a nice 21st century ideological twist) streaming into Wenchuan and saving survivors. The dialogue is much more turgid, the images much more conventionalized (based, as they are, on CCTV propaganda scenes that played over and over on Chinese television during the aftermath).” [Ibid]

“A more detailed critique of the film could offer many other examples of Feng’s canny, complex balancing act, where elements of truthful detail coexist with overarching images and themes that satisfy enforcers of Chinese political orthodoxy.” [Ibid]

“At its heart, the film is an extended and moving family drama in classical Chinese wenyipian or melodrama mode. It tells how three surviving members of a family, mother, daughter, and son---broken by the earthquake physically and emotionally---eventually find ways to overcome their grief and pain and come together in some semblance of a damaged but re-integrated family at home. Disaster, victimization, recovery, and survival: this is the underlying structure and thematic shape of the film. The subtly evoked subplot of sexual abuse within the family (evident to Chinese audiences who are familiar with the novel the film is based on, but which many western viewers may miss, since Feng just sketches in the space around it without underlining what’s implied) iterates, in microcosm, the harm abusive patriarchal authority can inflict, and the long-term suffering that its victims have to live with.”

Reaction to Aftershock

A survey on Sina.com, one of China's major news portals, shows nearly half of the 20,015 people surveyed said the movie was “very good and surpassed expectations.” About one quarter of those surveyed said the great performances of the movie's cast moved them the most. [Source: Xinhua, Global Times, July 27, 2010]

“Aftershock” was hailed as an emotional tour de force and a tearjerker of the first order. “You have to be very strong to see it, because it’s so realistic,” wrote one blogger, who identified himself as a survivor of the Tangshan disaster. “The movie makes you understand how precious life is.” [Source: Richard Bernstein, New York Times, August 11, 2010]

Among those that have their reservations about the film are Feng, the director, who in interviews with Chinese journalists has expressed, discreetly but unmistakably, his frustration with the limitations still placed on expression in this country. Some web reviews were not that great. “It’s a new version of the old model plays and operas,” a Chinese friend told Richard Bernstein of the New York Times, referring to the showy productions once sponsored by Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong, in which brave revolutionary stalwarts rescue the suffering victims of evil landlords. [Ibid]

The Global Times reported: “In a popular movie theater in central Beijing, most of the audience in one screening of the movie were moved to tears, as their weeping could be heard from time to time throughout the movie. Also there was laughter during the movie's screening, especially when advertisements were inserted into the story line of the movie and given close-up shots. The advertisements include those for a luxury car company, an insurance company, a large state-owned bank, a sports wear company, and a Chinese wine maker.”[Xinhua, Op. Cit]

Fifteen minutes of the movie's total length of two and a half hours were for these advertisements, which have drawn criticism from the media as well as the public. In an interview with Xinhua, Zhang Hongsen, vice director of the SARFT film department said advertisements placed in movies were necessary for film makers to make profits, as piracy poses a threat to their revenues. He said a tougher crackdown on piracy was essential to solving the problem of such advertisements placed into movies. [Xinhua, Op. Cit]

Aftershock Review

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Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times: “”Aftershock” depicts with impressive, extremely realistic special effects the devastating earthquake that hit the city of Tangshan... More important, then follows the emotional and psychological impact the disaster had on one family over the next three decades.”[Source: Richard Bernstein, New York Times, August 11, 2010]

Based loosely on a novel by the Chinese-Canadian writer Zhang Ling, Aftershock is something of a Chinese version of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, in which a mother is forced to choose which of her two children will survive the Holocaust. In the Chinese case, the mother of the two children trapped under the concrete slab is told by rescue workers that, in order to save one child, the slab will have to be moved in such a way that the other child will be crushed. The mother is pushed to decide---quickly, because time is running out... Save my son, she says, in an anguished voice just loud enough so her daughter can hear. A family drama of love, guilt, separation and redemption ensues that local audiences have clearly found deeply moving.” [Ibid]

There is also a fair amount of propaganda and ‘social realism’ in the film. “”Aftershock” is full of scenes of the glorious People’s Liberation Army marching under bright red flags to the rescue of the Tangshan earthquake victims, even though there’s a good deal of doubt about whether in fact the P.L.A. had been able to render much assistance in the Tangshan earthquake at all,” Bernstein wrote. “You’ll notice that the people who told the mother one of her children had to die were ordinary rescue workers, not soldiers, my friend observed. If it had been the P.L.A., the director would have been required to have them lift up the slab, and everybody would have been fine.” [Ibid]

“In many ways Aftershock shows a delicate sensibility and a good deal of originality...There’s no doubting Feng’s ability as a film director, but all movies in China have to get the approval of the bureaucrats of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, and the censors seem rarely to tolerate the sort of originality needed for any work of art to be great. That seems to be why Feng himself has expressed agreement with the notion that Aftershock is only pretty good, even if it’s also the best that can be expected of a big commercial Chinese film under the present circumstances.” [Ibid]

Chinese Blockbusters and Adopting Hollywood-Style Film-Making Methods

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times In two dozen recent interviews at theaters around the capital, some patrons said they were pleased that domestic films were beginning to adopt Hollywood production values. But younger viewers, especially those who have grown up downloading American sitcoms and films “nearly all of them illicitly “increasingly demand the technical wizardry and narrative complexity that they say is often lacking in state-backed productions.

“Unlike domestic films, foreign ones often have layers of plots,” Wang Tong, 14, said earlier this week as he waited to see the Hong Kong thriller “Mysterious Island” at a theater not far from Tiananmen Square. That’s not to suggest that Chinese filmmakers are short on creativity. A number of recent box-office successes, including “Let the Bullets Fly,” an action comedy set in the 1920s, and “City of Life and Death,” a period drama about Japanese war atrocities in Nanjing, have also been well received critically. And a growing number of sophisticated art-house dramas and documentaries have been made without government backing, though such films are often banned from Chinese theaters and rarely make it beyond the international festival circuit.

Then there are films like “Beginning of the Great Revival,” the state-backed extravaganza that features over 100 stars but has been panned by many of those who have seen it. The production has earned $46 million during its first three weeks, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. But with state-owned enterprises buying up large blocks of tickets, the film’s popularity has been questioned.

China Film Group and the Making of Chinese Blockbusters

China Film Group (CFG) is China’s biggest film company. Along with a smaller firm in which it holds a 12 percent stake, CFG controls more than half of all domestic film distribution in China. The two firms also distribute the 20 foreign films that China allows in each year. [Source: The Economist July 14, 2011]

CFG spins tales of love, disaster, war and kung fu, of course. But the easy money is in patriotic pap. In recent years, the firm has produced “Nanking! Nanking!” (about heroic Chinese resistance to Japan during the second world war) and “The Founding of a Republic” (about the Communist takeover in 1949).

Such films are profitable partly because their stars do not expect to be paid much, if anything. About 100 famous actors worked for nothing on “The Founding of a Republic”. An even more impressive 172 stars with Chinese ties signed on for “The Beginning of the Great Revival”, for compensation that, according to the director, amounted to less than the cost of lunch boxes for the crew.

“The Founding of a Republic” cost 30 million yuan ($4.6m) to make and brought in a tidy 420 million yuan. “The Beginning of the Great Revival” cost 80 million yuan, but has been a bit of a disappointment at the box office, having brought in only 340 million yuan so far. Still, that is a return that would thrill any investor in Hollywood.


Founding of the Republic

Founding of the Republic

  “The Founding of a Republic”, a 2009 film directed by  Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin  that depicts Mao  Zedong rise to power,   took in $62 million  in 2009, making it history's highest-earning Chinese film up to that time,  surpassing two Hollywood blockbusters, “Titanic” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, to become the top-grossing film in China's history. Zhang Yimou was originally slated to make the film released to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Communist China.

“The Founding of a Republic” earned a total box office of 420 million yuan and took three and a half days to earn 100 million yuan---not bad for a propaganda film. The film features a number of Chinese stars---including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Stephen Chow, Zhang Ziyi and film-maker Chen Kaige---in cameo roles as major political figures. John Woo’s appearance ended up on the cutting room floor. Critics have suggested that many of the star names were only introduced to boost the film's box-office appeal. [Source: Ben Child, The Guardian, October 21, 2009]

“The Founding of the Republic” was produced by the Chinese government to mark China’s 60th anniversary in 2009. According to The Guardian: the film's official release was preceded by a campaign in which trailers were screened ahead of every other movie released in recent months. It was then released on the largest ever number of screens in Chinese film history. For good measure, the authorities made sure there was no competition from Hollywood product, and released the film during an extended national holiday period.” Clearing censors was no problem because production was taken over from big-name directors by the presidents of state-owned enterprises. [Ibid]

Many amateur reviewers panned it. One wrote on the imdb.com message board: “If you are not already familiar with the history of China between 1938-1949, you are going to find the plot difficult to keep up with. Many characters appear, say or do something, then disappear...Secondly, the editing is terrible. Almost every scene is chopped and cut, and just jumps from one scene to another. Thirdly, the superstar cameos. There are some cameo appearances which were absolutely unnecessary.” [Ibid]

The Founding of the Party, a prequel to the The Founding of a Republic is being made. Liu Ye plays a young Mao Zedong. Actress Tang Wei , who was blacklisted from appearing in Chinese films or on TV for a time, has been rehabilitated: she is to play Mao Zedong's first love. Lu Chuan and Sheng Ding will direct parts of the film besides chief director Huang Jianxin. And unlike last time, the cast will not be working for free but receive basic compensation and expenses.

See History

Painted Skin 2 Takes China by Storm

In July 2012, The Guardian reported: ‘supernatural romance sequel “Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection” became the first local film in nearly six months to sit on the No 1 spot. [Ibid] It did a bit more than that, in fact. Not only was it China's third highest opening weekend ever (300m yuan/$47m, behind Titanic 3D and the third Transformers), but it's now the highest grossing local film of all time, too ($111.8m to date). Directed by Mongolian-born up-and-comer Wuershan, it's a throwback to the heyday of the 90s Hong Kong supernatural titillator: actor-singers Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei play the aforementioned fox demon and a disfigured princess who, competing for the attention of a local frontier general, end up trading bodies. Think a Taoist Face/Off, with shimmery underwater sapphic writhings instead of showers of slow-mo bullet casings. [Source: The Guardian, July 31, 2012]

The Hollywood Reporter praised Painted Skin 2's "unbridled visual creativity", while shrinking from its more retrogressive elements, especially the depiction of some eye-rolling, black-magic-practising barbarians who were "a laughable throwback to long-outgrown film stereotypes". But mostly, Wuershan gets his undeniably broad story stylings singing with mythic resonance. Not everything about his film is staunchly traditional, though. One obvious reason for the scale of its success is that it has tapped successfully into the female demographic that seems to be crucial if any blockbuster, Chinese or not, is to hit warp speed. Not just by casting two female leads, but by giving them decent roles, too, and a timeless theme---the significance of beauty---with deep-lunged dramatic breathing room. "Zhao's scenes with Zhou are much more emotionally resonant than those with the weak-eyed Chen [Kun], her putative romantic partner," noted Film Business Asia's Derek Elley . [Ibid]

Even more of a departure for the industry could be the fact that Painted Skin 2's backers Huayi Brothers---the country's largest private media company---avoided the director-centric approach of much Chinese film, and opted to put power in the hands of its producers instead: the Hollywood way. "They executed a market-oriented strategy in their selection of director, their screenplay development, their choice of release date, and their investment and production management," writes Robert Cain on his Chinafilmbiz blog, "It could have a long-lasting impact on Chinese film production."

Of course it's ironic that Painted Skin 2 needed a little old-fashioned government help for this apprentice in Hollywood market-economy ways not to be crushed by the real Hollywood. But that is the kind of paradox China likes to throw up now. Wuershan should know: he has embraced all players. His first film, hyperactive martial-arts comedy The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman, was for Fox International, executive-produced by Doug Liman (Mr and Mrs Smith), while his debut homegrown production yanks him right back towards classical Chinese culture. That always has exotic allure for western audiences; with Ice Age 4 tempting Chinese audiences back to Hollywood, we'll see how loyal the home crowd are feeling. [Ibid]

Red Cliff

In the mid 2000s Hong-Long-Hollywood director John Woo began working on a film called “The Battle of Red Cliff”, a Mandarin-language epic about a famous battle by the same name that took place n A.D. 208 that determined the borders of the Three Kingdoms period, when China had three separate rulers. “The Battle of Red Cliff” is a coproduction between the state-owned China Film Group and Woo’s Los Angeles-based Lion Rock Productions. Woo had hopped to film scenes from the movie along the Yangtze River, but was denied permission for the Chinese government.

”Red Cliff” is the most expensive movie ever made in China. It cost $80 million to make and stars Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Woo reportedly spent $10 million of his own money in the film, and spent two years writing and researching the script.

”Red Cliff” set the box office record for a domestic movie in China. It earned $44 million in its first week. At that time only “Titanic” had earned more, taking in $53 million. The film took in $250m worldwide and was crowned Asia's box office champion at the Asian Film Awards.

In some places the film was released in two parts with the first part covering an epic ground battle and the second part focuses on a naval battle. Woo told the Daily Yomiuri, “I loved the story since I was about 10 or 12, I started with comic book...I so admired the heros like Liu Bei, Zhao Yun, Guan Yu, Zhuge Liang.”

”Red Cliff” is the first feature film by John Woo filmed un Asia since he moved his filmmaking operation to Hollywood. Woo told the Daily Yomiuri, “When I go back to Asia, I have to relinquish what I’ve done in the United States. So I have to start over again and I have to go back and learn the language, the thoughts, culture and everything,

See History

Chow Yun-fat Plays Confucius


In 2010 a state-backed film about Confucius was released with Chow Yun-Fat, better known as a tough guy in Hong Kong gangster movies, playing the great master. Chow is best known for his role in the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but he made his name in high-octane Hong Kong gangster fare such asHard Boiled and A Better Tomorrow. [Source: The Guardian]

The film was directed is Hu Mei, one of the best known female directors of China's vaunted fifth generation. Her a conductor for an army orchestra, was imprisoned by the Red Guards, while her grandfather died in custody.

The film is said to have had a budget of 150m yuan (£16m). Shot in Hebei province and at Hengdian studios in Zhejiang, it was is one of a number of films put together to celebrate 60 years of communist rule. Confucius ended up having a disappointing box-office run.

Let the Bullets Fly Versus 1911

Jiang Wen's latest film “Let Bullets Fly” has earned rare box-office success in the sensitive genre of Chinese political satire, but theories are flying that it accomplishes much more: eluding strict censorship to criticize China's current government. “Let the Bullets Fly” is China's highest-grossing domestic film ever. It earned the $95 million by March 2011. [Source: Hollywood Reporter, January 11, 2011]

Set in the chaotic years after the collapse of imperial rule, “Let the Bullets Fly” tells the story of a Robin Hood-like bandit who kidnaps a con man about to take up the mayorship he secured through bribes. The bandit swaps identities with his hostage and becomes mayor, only to find himself locked in a battle of wits against a corrupt businessman who made his fortune from tobacco and human trafficking.

Movie critics, however, say there is more than meets the eye. Are the con man and businessman symbols of corrupt Chinese officials who have secretly pocketed the fruits of the country's capitalist-style economic reforms? Is the bandit, who is played by Jiang himself, the brave crusader who dares take on the status quo? The con man travels in a train compartment pulled by horses. The word "horse"---pronounced "ma" in Chinese---is also used as Chinese shorthand for Marxism. Is the horse-pulled train a metaphor for China---a modernizing country driven by outdated ideology? Jiang's character says in the movie he wants to "earn money while standing upright" instead of kowtowing to authority. Is that Jiang the filmmaker speaking, saying he wants to make movies without censoring himself? The producer of the film Chow Keung said many Chinese censors were trained at film schools and likely noticed Jiang's subliminal messages---but turned a blind eye thinking they are too obscure for regular moviegoers.

Jiang was coy when pressed about the hidden messages at the Hong Kong premiere of “Let the Bullets Fly”. Asked if his latest work was in fact a political criticism, the 48-year-old filmmaker said, "Whatever interpretation is fine. Whatever. You are welcome to think whatever you want to." He then jokingly chided a reporter for asking the question, saying, "You really lack imagination."

Some fellow filmmakers say Jiang has pulled off an incredible feat by producing a commercial hit backed by the censors without sacrificing his artistic and personal integrity. Chinese directors known for their earlier, critical works---such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige---have come under fire for gravitating toward apolitical historical and kung fu epics that don't offend the government and meet growing market demand.

For all practical purposes, one can argue that Let the Bullets Fly is simply an entertaining action comedy. Besides Jiang, it stars Chow Yun-fat and Ge You, one of China's biggest stars.

The movie's tremendous buzz may have the censors reconsidering. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered movie theaters to scale back screenings about a week after its Dec. 16 release, according to the China Digital Times, a U.S.-based website that monitors the Chinese media industry. That hasn't curbed the movie's box office success, which has reached more than 600 million Chinese yuan ($91 million).

"1911," Jackie Chan’s revolutionary film epic, hews to the orthodox depiction of Sun Yat-sen favored by films tailored for the mainland market: a heroic, mythic figure. The film tells the story of the resentment of the majority Han Chinese toward the ruling Manchu minority and the bloody road to a republic. It features Chan as codirector and star in a movie packed with action scenes and a catalogue of historical figures that for the uninitiated require footnotes. Chan plays Huang Xing, Sun Yatsen's deputy, one of the founders of the Kuomintang and the revolution's military leader.

Beginning of the Great Revival

In June 2011, “ Beginning of the Great Revival”, a blockbuster movie chronicling the founding of the country's ruling Communist Party was released. It cost 800 million yuan, or $124 million, an all-time record for a Chinese movie. Fareed Zakaria wrote: the film---is a two-hour tale of the rise of China's Communist Party “released on the occasion of its 90th anniversary “and its heroic leader, Mao Zedong, who is played by a young Chinese heartthrob. The movie features a cast of hundreds of major Chinese actors, including Chow Yun Fat, with impressive sets and design, all at record cost.

The Economist reported: “It opened at every cineplex in China on June 15th, in time for the party’s 90th birthday. Competing films with a shred of drawing power were blocked, even the awful “Transformers 3". Many state-owned firms ordered their staff to attend. Schools organised trips so that pupils could watch and learn from the exploits of a youthful Mao Zedong. Government departments deployed waves of bureaucratic bottoms to fill seats...The film was not, as you might imagine, a piece of government-produced propaganda. It was a piece of for-profit propaganda, produced by the country’s biggest film company, the China Film Group (CFG). Needless to say the film was nearly universally panned. A screenshot from a Chinese microblog user taken before douban.com disabled its rating system showed the film receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews, with 87.8 percent of participating users giving it one star. Others on the Web discussion boards have called the film an attempt by authorities to "brainwash" the public in an effort to create more support for the Chinese government. “I was confused throughout the entire movie,” Liu Yang, sophomore at Tsinghua University Medical School, told the New York Times after watching “Beginning of the Great Revival.” “It featured way too much romance with Mao Zedong.”

Liu Ye played a young Mao Zedong. Actress Tang Wei , who was blacklisted from appearing in Chinese films or on TV for a time, was rehabilitated in time to play Mao Zedong's first love. Lu Chuan and Sheng Ding directed parts of the film besides chief director Huang Jianxin. The cast did not work for free as they had for other Communist Party block busters but receive basic compensation and expenses.

Chinese Web users poked at the irony of the film, David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project, told PC World. While the film depicts historical figures fighting for revolution, currently people in China cannot encourage revolution given the government's outlawing of any political subversion in the country, a point that microblog users are making. [Source: Michael Kan, PC World June 22, 2011]

A 24-year-old from Beijing told PC World said his state-owned company had made it an activity to go watch the film. China's propaganda offices had resorted to making the a blockbuster movie in order to better reach the masses, he added. As a result, many of the people choosing to watch it are simply doing so because its cast includes so many famous stars.

But the irony of the film was also not lost to him. "On the Web I saw this saying: people are allowed to sing revolutionary songs, but they are not allowed to actually lead a revolution," he said. "Chinese people are not dumb. They understand the humor of all this." "So I think with this film, it won't really have a brain-washing effect. Instead it will have the opposite," he added. "The movie is saying open party politics is crucial. But in reality, China does not have that. From the movie's images, it proves the importance of democracy and having open party politics."

A 27-year-old in Beijing, who only wished to give out his surname Jin, agreed. He said he was interested in watching the movie, considering the current political climate of China. "The movie has secret societies, unlawful gatherings, protest demonstrations, and anti-government movements, these are all things that China's Communist Party currently bans," he said. Jin said it was clear the movie's original intention was to brainwash people. But he added, "Ultimately, with a product like this, the creators can only make it, but its up to the viewers to interpret it as how they see fit."

Web Ratings Disabled for Beginning of the Great Revival

In June 2011 Michael Kan wrote in PC World, “Theaters in China began showing a new blockbuster movie last week chronicling the founding of the country's ruling Communist Party. But while the film "Beginning of the Great Revival" has enjoyed a wide release, finding out whether if the movie is any good or not has been more of a challenge as Chinese web users wonder why they can't review the film. [Source: Michael Kan, PC World June 22, 2011]

Two popular movie review websites in China have disabled the star rating system for the film. The sites, douban.com and mtime.com, are also not allowing users to leave written reviews about the movie. Both sites were contacted, but a request for comment was not returned. The reasoning behind the action, however, was not a mystery to users on Sina Weibo, one of China's most popular microblogs. Posts on the microblogs claimed the websites had been forced to "harmonize" the movie reviews, a term used in reference to Chinese government censoring online content.

Chinese authorities are particularly sensitive to information that's critical of the government. This new film is being released to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of China's Communist Party. But not all Chinese Web users have been welcoming of the movie. A screenshot from a Chinese microblog user taken before douban.com disabled its rating system showed the film receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews, with 87.8 percent of participating users giving it one star. Others on the Web discussion boards have called the film an attempt by authorities to "brainwash" the public in an effort to create more support for the Chinese government.

Image Sources: YouTube, IMDB

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated December 2012


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