CHINESE-MADE BLOCKBUSTERS AND POPULAR FILMS
Chinese-made “The Battle At Lake Changjin” was the top film of globally in 2021 (See Below). Local films accounted for 85 percent of China's box office in 2020, according to the research firm Ampere Analysis, compared to 60 percent in 2018 and 50 percent in 2016. In 2021, the Hollywood films "F9" and "Godzilla vs. Kong" did well but not as well as Chinese films like "Hi, Mom" and "Detective Chinatown 3", which raked in $200 million and $400 million, respectively. "There are Chinese blockbusters that Chinese filmmakers are making that people want to watch, and they feel less derivative than those made in Hollywood," said Aynne Kokas, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia and the author of the book "Hollywood Made in China." [Source: Travis Clark, Business Insider, October 5, 2021]
In 2019, 78 pictures exceeded 100 million yuan ($14.22 million), and among these 15 grossed over 1 billion yuan ($142.2 million) and 6 over 2 billion ($284.5 million). According to the China Daily,“Eight of the top moneymakers are domestic productions, such as the phenomenal Ne Zha, the sci-fi saga The Wandering Earth and romantic crime coming of age film Better Days. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, two high-profile pictures My People, My Country and The Captain seized a considerable market share. Moviegoers in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen contributed most to the national box office. [Source: Li Wenrui, China Daily, December 13, 2019]
On mainstream Chinese cinema, Chris Berry, an expert on Chinese film, said: Chinese popular cinema is becoming extremely successful at the box office in China again, and has been knocking Hollywood blockbusters off their perch. In part, I think that is because they are also confronting Chinese reality in a way that Hollywood films cannot. In mainstream cinema, that confrontation with reality appears as themes about truth and trust. The comedies are usually about not being able to trust anyone and everyone cheating each other. The most successful film in China’ until recently was “a low budget comedy called “Lost in Thailand”, where the two main characters chase and con each other all around the world as they try get their hands on a commercial secret. The romances are about materialism versus true love — and true love does not always win! “Love Is Not Blind” is all about learning you don’t need Mr. Right if you’ve got credit cards and a gay best friend to tell you what you look good in. And the crime films are about what people are prepared to do in the pursuit of money.[Source: Chris Berry, professor at Kings College, London, dGenerate Films, November 14, 2013]
China Film Group (CFG) was China’s biggest film company in the early 2010s. It was known for producing patriotic blockbusters. According to the Economist: CFG spins tales of love, disaster, war and kung fu, of course. But the easy money is in patriotic pap. 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. [Source: The Economist July 14, 2011]
On the influence of foreign films in the early 2010s, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times In two dozen recent interviews at theaters around Beijing, 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." [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times,July 17 2011]
Websites: Chinese Film Classics chinesefilmclassics.org ; Senses of Cinema sensesofcinema.com; 100 Films to Understand China radiichina.com. dGenerate Films is a New York-based distribution company that collects post-Sixth Generation independent Chinese cinema dgeneratefilms.com; Internet Movie Database (IMDb) on Chinese Film imdb.com ; Wikipedia List of Chinese Filmmakers Wikipedia ; Shelly Kraicer’s Chinese Cinema site chinesecinemas.org ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Resource List mclc.osu.edu ; Love Asia Film loveasianfilm.com; Wikipedia article on Chinese Cinema Wikipedia ; 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
Battle At Lake Changjin: Top Film Globally in 2021
“The Battle At Lake Changjin” —a Korean War epic — was the top film of 2021 globally and highest grossing movie ever in China, edging the previous leader, 2017’s Wolf Warrior 2. As of mid November 2021, 56 days after its release, Lake Changjin had earned $890 million, according to ticketing platform Maoyan. With a 9.5 score from local audiences, Lake Changjin opened for the National Day holiday, breaking several box office records at that time. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian“congratulated” actor Wu Jing “for surpassing himself.” Wu starred in Wolf Warrior 2 and also leads Lake Changjin. He will star again in the sequel, Water Gate Bridge, which is expected in 2022.[Source: Nancy Tartaglione, Deadline, November 25, 2021]
Directed by a trio of famous filmmakers. Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam, “The Battle At Lake Changjin is set during the Second Phase Offensive of the Korean War and tells the story of the People’s Volunteer Army entering North Korea for the titular battle, turning the tide in the war when it seemed like the American and South Korean forces were on the verge of defeating North Korea.
Todd McCarthy wrote in Deadline: Timed to the occasion of China’s National Day holiday, the state spared no expense in making a most lavish and expensive slab of self-congratulatory movie propaganda with “The Battle At Lake Changjin”. Clocking in at nearly three hours, and spectacularly presented on an enormous IMAX screen, this is a gargantuan account of how Chinese troops outfoxed the Allied brass and pushed American and United Nations forces out of North Korea near the border of China in late 1950. The ultimate result of the fighting, which included great loss of life on both sides after three years of fearsome combat, was a North/South stand-off that continues to this day.
“Financially, its ending is emphatically a welcome one for everyone concerned with its production. After its world premiere at the Beijing Film Festival on September 21, the epic opened nine days later to over $230 million across its first weekend, and is currently at $707 million as it looks to finish its commercial run with around $836 million, making it the biggest film worldwide of 2021 — solely from China.
“Since there’s absolutely no question what point of view this $200 million-plus epic propagates, Western viewers are thus offered an opportunity to see what it feels like to be on the opposite side of a good guy/bad guy narrative, one in which the villains are the Yank soldiers who just a few years earlier crucially helped save the world from Hitler and Tojo. So it’s an unusual feeling to watch a film celebrate the vanquishing of a Western military force by a theoretically far less capable opponent — a sneak peak, if you will, of Vietnam not too many years in the future.
“Like the highly successful 1962 account of the D-Day landing, The Longest Day, The Battle At Lake Changjin required not one, not two, but three directors — Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam — to pull it off, and the logistics are of similar high order. Possibly teeming with more extras than any film since the Russian War And Peace over a half-century ago, this is a film bursting at the seams with manpower, explosions, casualties and drastic physical challenges. A good deal of sometimes obvious CGI is used to fill in the backgrounds with boats, planes, trains and distant troops, but the epic feel is palpable throughout. Size-wise as well as quality-wise, the closest Western comparison to this film is undoubtedly Pearl Harbor. The emphasis here lies almost entirely on robust combat embedded in ideological commitment. There’s a high-end video game quality to some of the big action and since the film itself is molded more with an eye to maximizing spectacle than to elucidating history, it seems rather beside the point to complain about the general lack of geo-political detail.
“Faced with a stalemate at best, a chain-smoking Mao Zedong (Tang Guoqiang, who has played the chairman a half-dozen times) decided it was time to make a daring move and mobilized 120,000 Chinese troops to reverse the tide and, he hoped, send the foreigners home. From here on, it’s pretty much all-battle, all the time. Logistics and strategy are shunned in favor of massive movements of men, anything that moves being shot at, soldiers forced to adapt, suffer, sacrifice, make bold and brave moves and otherwise trick and prevail over the well-equipped adversaries. Among the main hallmarks of the battle, which took place in mountainous terrain between November 27 and December 13, 1950, were the bitter cold — nighttime temperatures went down to as low as minus-30 degrees — and lack of heavy clothing and rations; many froze and/or starved to death.”
Groundbreaking Blockbusters in China
“A Great Wall” (directed by Peter Wang, 1986) is widely recognized as the first American feature film to be shot in China. According to RADII: Chinese-American director Peter Wang’s comedy drama feature remains relevant fodder for discussion, with its plot around culture clashes a topic also covered in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. The director Ken Yang said: A story of Beijing, filmed by a Chinese-American — East and West cultures colliding. The scenery of 1980s Beijing is on full display, and the film is quite funny. [Source: RADII]
“The Dream Factory” (directed by Feng Xiaogang, 1997) is regarded as the first big holiday season breakout hit. It was released during the Chinese New Year holiday season and did quite well as the box office, showing the way for making money during the holidays. Focusing on a literal “dream factory,” the movie is full of oddball encounters, and was an early sign of Feng Xiaogang’s commercial crossover ability. Feng is now one of China’s biggest blockbuster directors. Screenwriter Phoebe Long, said: Initiating the concept of the “Chinese New Year film,” its one-liners have been widely adopted by everyday folks. It represents the majority of Chinese people’s taste in film.
“Crazy Stone” (directed by Ning Hao, 2006) was the first of a trio of “Crazy” movies made by Ning Hao, and probably the most enduring one. Crazy Stone was very influential, ushering in a new style of comic film immediately embraced by Chinese audiences. Jason Lin, former executive at Alibaba Pictures told RADII: Released in 2006, this is China’s first popcorn movie in the new modern era of filmmaking post 2000s. It was a totally avante-garde film from a young director. It woke up the industry to recognize a commercial type of film with artistic sentiment that audiences would come to increasingly demand.
“Let the Bullets Fly” (directed by Jiang Wen, 2010) shows off Jiang Wen’s skill and diversity as a filmmaker. A black comedy set in the warlord era in 1920s China, it is a wild, rollicking good time. Beloved for its references to social issues and pop culture, and won wide critical acclaim, as well as becoming the fastest Chinese film to break the 100 million RMB. Xueting Christine Ni, author and speaker: A unique, genre-bending film, almost like a Chinese Western black comedy, with a historical setting but a script packed with references to online memes and pop culture. See Below
“Red Cliff” (2008-2009) is the effort by famous director John Woo to bring "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", one of China's greatest stories, to the big screen. In the mid 2000s, Woo, who has had success in Hollywood, began working on the 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 hoped to film scenes from the movie along the Yangtze River, but was denied permission for the Chinese government. At the time it was made, ”Red Cliff” was the most expensive movie ever made in China. It cost $80 million to make and starred Hong-Kong actor Tony Leung and Japanese actor 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 $250 million 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. "Red Cliff" top the Chinese box office charts in 2008. "Red Cliff II" was second in 2009. 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” was the first feature film by John Woo filmed in 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,"
“City of Life and Death” (2009) is a Chinese-made film by Lu Chuan about the invasion of Nanking in 1937, with Christian Bale, that has been both praised and condemned for portraying the Japanese in a somewhat sympathetic light. The film depicts the Nanking massacre through the eyes of a Japanese soldier who is shocked and terrified by the atrocities committed by his compatriots and ultimately kills himself after letting a Chinese prisoner of war escape. Even though the film attracted a large audience and was approved by the Communist Party, Lu was accused by some as being a traitor. See Separate Article City of Life and Death: Film About the Nanking Massacrefactsanddetails.com
Wolf Warrior II
Wolf Warrior 2 (directed by Wu Jing, 2017) was the second most successful film at the Chinese box office after “Lake Changjin”, earning around $890 million, according to ticketing platform Maoyan, as of November 2021. “Wolf Warrior 2" was the surprise Chinese hit of 2017, breaking all sorts of records on its way to becoming China’s highest-grossing film of all time at that time. According to RADII: Wolf Warrior 2 stunned the market by doing over $800 million upon its release during the Chinese New Year holiday season in 2017. It single-handedly changed the market, marking the beginning of a domestic boom. Theme-wise, Wolf Warrior 2‘s “Chinese Rambo saves the day in unnamed African nation” plot puts it squarely in the category of zhuxuanlu — a genre sitting somewhere between patriotic and propagandistic. Peter Shiao, CEO and founder of Immortal Studios wrote: A “Bad Movie” that is concurrently pivoting towards a zhuxuanlu style, this film depicts the Chinese as virtuous and powerful on a global stage in need of a new hero. [Source: Nancy Tartaglione, Deadline, November 25, 2021]
According to Chublic Opinion: “”Wolf Warrior II” is the second installment of a commando-saves-all action movie series created and directed by Chinese Kung Fu star Wu Jing. Set in a fictional African country torn apart by a bloody civil war and a deadly contagious disease, the movie hero is retired Chinese special force soldier Leng Feng, who single-handedly crushes cold-blooded rebel forces and their even more ruthless mercenaries (who are Caucasians), and leads a band of stranded Chinese workers facing slaughter to safety. [Source:Chublic Opinion, September 18, 2017]
“The plot is not new. Moviegoers are well exposed to the kinds of stories that feature super soldiers neutralizing entire armies to accomplish noble goals. Many have compared the film to Hollywood action films such as First Blood and even Captain America. Some attribute its box office success to a level of professional execution that approaches Hollywood blockbusters, still a relatively rare quality in Chinese productions despite ballooning budgets in recent years. The 160 second underwater longshot at the beginning of the movie was applauded by online commentators as a cinematographic feat. Some industry insiders even celebrated it as a sign of the maturation of “mainstream value movies” as a genre. Traditionally, such movies reek of Party propaganda and yield poor box office results. This time, rather than seeing such tricks as a lack of artistic ambition, which is often with the view of propaganda or genre films, commentators were upbeat about a Chinese movie being able to pull off the showy shots that characterize mature Hollywood productions.
“In a way the sentiment reflects the harsh reality of the Chinese movie theatre, which is filled with exploitative B movies pretending to be high-budget blockbusters . Even the above critics rate Wolf Warrior as a 7 out of 10, a nonetheless decent score given the low average standard. the score is considered particularly hard won for a film that tries to promote a patriotic message, which, as the Founding of an Army shows, isn’t an easy sell for the majority of cinema goers who seek an escapist experience free of clumsy political indoctrination.
“One aspect of the Wolf Warrior franchise’s commercial success that’s easily overlooked is its connection with a thriving online military subculture. The movie’s chief screenwriter Fenwuyaorao is one of the most popular authors on qidian.com, a portal for online pop fiction that has generated a sophisticated web of genres and sub-genres. Wolf Warrior has its roots in Bullet Holes (2006), an online novel that tells the story of a young man growing from an army rookie into a super commando. As a genre, such works are often valued for the authenticity in their description of weaponry and battlefield tactics, a major attraction for a predominantly male readership. The author’s ID on qidian.com invokes a sense of awe among his followers, for his grasp of military knowledge. For some of these fans, the author’s name alone is sufficient reason for purchasing a ticket. A manager at Yuewen Group, which owns Qidian.com, proudly declared on Weibo that their authors were among the savviest in terms of “reading” the commercial entertainment market, which is likely true given their close interactions with their reader community compared to more conventional authors of fictional works. As soon as Wolf Warrior II was released, military fans on social media circulated video clips detailing weapons featured in the film, which included Chinese-made submachine guns, tanks, destroyers and the Liaoning Aircraft Carrier. There were also lively discussions about the difference between Chinese and US special forces in terms of their underlying organizing principles, inspired by scenes in the movie.
“Clearly the movie’s impact goes way beyond the subcultural community and resonates with a much larger audience. It’s that broader resonance that raises expectations, questions, and eyebrows. “Wu Jing did what the Great Wall failed to do,” declared the Beijing Daily, an ideologically rigid mouthpiece run by the Beijing Municipal Party Committee. (The Great Wall, a 2016 man vs. monster Chinese big budget movie that cast Hollywood stars such as Matt Damon, was an embarrassing box office fiasco both domestically and abroad.) Wolf Warrior II is praised for its “sophisticated commercial storytelling and heroism-centered core values.” The protagonist, an underdog character (he was dismissed from the special force for breaking the law) in search of his beloved girlfriend, is considered “sufficiently sympathetic” for viewers. The up and downs of his adventure follow a tightly woven, Hollywood style heroism narrative that appeals widely. Meanwhile, his embodiment of China’s commitment to peace and to protecting the safety of its citizens globally, advances the values of a rising superpower. All in all, the movie contributes to the “going global of Chinese culture,” said the Beijing Daily commentary. Discussions about the movie convey the idea that “Hollywood production”, once mastered, can be an effective vehicle for the spread of Chinese values, which harkens back to the notion of “Western learning as an application, Chinese learning as a foundation” at the beginning of China’s modernization efforts 150 years ago.
Wandering Earth: China’s First Great Sci-Fi Blockbuster
“The Wandering Earth”(directed Frant Gwo, 2019) was the second most successful film at the Chinese box office in 2019, earning $690 million behind Ne Zha, an animated feature that took in $703 million. Adapted from a novel by Hugo Award-winning author Liu Cixin, “The Wandering Earth” was called China’s answer to all those “the US saves the world” Hollywood blockbusters. In addition to being gigantic hit at home The Wandering Earth” created quite a bit of buzz internationally, heralding “the birth of Chinese sci-fi.” Jason Lin told RADII: The film shows the ambition of China as a country that can not only control its own destiny, but a country that can help lead the world, and even play a part in saving the world. Notably, the film was based on the novella by Liu Cixin, China’s most renowned science fiction writer.
The Wandering Earth” earned nearly half a billion dollars in its first ten days of release, eventually becoming China’s second-highest-grossing film ever at the time. A headline in the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, jubilantly summed up the mood: “Only the Chinese Can Save the Planet!” Steven Lee Myers wrote in the New York Times: “The Wandering Earth,” shown in 3-D, takes place in a distant future in which the sun is about to expand into a red giant and devour the Earth.The impending peril forces the world’s engineers to devise a plan to move the planet to a new solar system using giant thrusters. Things go very badly when Earth has to pass Jupiter, setting off a desperate scramble to save humanity from annihilation. The special effects — like the apocalyptic climatic changes that would occur if Earth suddenly moved out of its cozy orbit — are certain to be measured against Hollywood’s, as ever here. Reviews have been positive. “It’s like the coming-of-age of the industry,” the critic Raymond Zhou said. [Source: Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, February 4, 2019]
“The Wandering Earth” opens during Japanese New Year, the beginning of an official, weeklong holiday that is traditionally a peak box-office period in China. It has a limited release in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. At home, it will compete with “Crazy Alien,” a comedy inspired by “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” about two brothers hoping to capitalize on the arrival of a visitor from outer space.
“Both “The Wandering Earth” and “Crazy Alien” are adapted from works by Liu Cixin, the writer who has led a renaissance in science fiction here, becoming the first Chinese winner of the Hugo Award for the genre in 2015. His novels are sprawling epics and deeply researched. That makes them plausible fantasies about humanity’s encounters with a dangerous universe. Translating them into movies would challenge any filmmaker, as the director of “The Wandering Earth,” Guo Fan, acknowledged during a screening in Beijing last week.
“That has made the film, produced by Beijing Jingxi Culture & Tourism Company and the state-owned China Film Group Corp., a test for the industry. Guo, who uses the name Frant Gwo in English, noted that Chinese audiences have responded coolly to many of Hollywood’s previous sci-fi blockbusters. Studios, therefore, have been wary of investing the resources required to make convincing sci-fi.
“The film’s budget reportedly reached nearly $50 million, modest by Hollywood standards but still significant here in China. More than 7,000 people were involved in the production. Much of it was filmed in the new Oriental Movie Metropolis, an $8 billion studio in the coast city of Qingdao, built by the real estate and entertainment giant Dalian Wanda.
“Liu’s other, more famous book, “The Three Body Problem”, was meant to hit screens in 2016 but has been hit by multiple delays and still has no definite release date. Filming — much of it done in the Lesser Hinggan Mountains in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang — was reportedly finished in 2015, so you would assume producers were not entirely happy with the result. Liu has also been hired by China's Internet giant Tencent to be their mobile game imagination architect.
Monster Hunt (directed by Hui Raman, 2015) became the highest grossing film in China at the time of its release, taking in $380 million, a whopping amount in China. According to RADII: By extension, its star, the radish shaped monster Wuba, became an icon inside and outside of the country. Alibaba and theme park Chimelong decided to get in on the marketing power of Wuba and co, teaming with the film’s sequel for marketing campaigns that helped redefine the market potential for Chinese blockbusters. Raman Hui directed “Shrek the Third”. Peter Shiao, CEO and founder of Immortal Studios, said: One of China’s most successful entrees into large-scale visual fantasies heavily borrowed from Hollywood, yet short on essence, originality or ambition. [Source: RADII]
“Monster Hunt” is the story of two hunters in a world populated with people-eating monsters. Julienna Law wrote: “Monster Hunt is like if someone took the exaggerated martial arts choreography of Journey to the Westand sprinkled in the cuteness of CJ7, like if the cast of Monsters, Inc. opened a door to a Stephen Chow kung fu film instead of Boo’s room, or Bruce Lee somehow crash landed on the Ewoks’ moon of Endor. It’s cutesy with a kick, is what we’re saying. [Source:Julienna Law, RADII, December 19, 2018]
“The story kicks off with a civil war that has broken out in the Monster Realm, where a treacherous minister has usurped the throne and wants the Monster Queen and her unborn child dead. The 3D fantasy adventure film features real-life actors and computer-animated monsters battling it out for the Monster Queen’s baby, who she entrusts to the care of bumbling village mayor Song Tianyin (played by Jing). Along the way, he meets aspiring monster-hunter Huo Xiaolan, and together they embark upon a journey to protect the baby from monsters, humans, and sometimes even monsters in human disguise. “Coupled with a musical number, a pregnant man, and a radish-like baby monster that will make you aww, Monster Hunt is a movie you can enjoy with the whole family.
The Mermaid (directed by Stephen Chow) was highest-grossing film in China in China in 2016, raking $527 million. The film is about an isolated population of mermaids in a future war with humans, who wish to destroy the mermaids’ habitat as part of a sea reclamation project. Jason Lin wrote: While Stephen Chow films have always been well-received by Chinese audiences, this one turned the trend of Hollywood blockbusters outperforming Chinese films, breaking opening day, opening week [records], and ultimately setting a new high mark for all-time box office. The film’s environmental theme was also notable. [Source: RADII]
In a review of the film, Elizabeth Kerr wrote in the Hollywood Reporter: “Environmental irresponsibility and corporate greed are at the heart of the latest tirade, however delicate, by Hong Kong comedy legend Stephen Chow. Returning to the director’s chair three years after the less than pointed Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, Chow’s latest is more in line with the early work that made him a hit at home (King of Comedy) and earned him a cult following overseas (Kung Fu Hustle). With no time for allegory or parable, the fantastical Mermaid delivers its message without a shred of subtlety (and is unapologetic about it) but with considerable charm, wit and darkness to make up for it. After a record-breaking debut in China and Hong Kong, overseas markets that embraced Chow at his sweet and snarky best will do so again. [Source: Elizabeth Kerr, Hollywood Reporter, February 14, 2016]
“In a story that could have been ripped from many a headline — mythic fish-people excluded — a ruthless, profit-focused developer Liu (Deng Chao) becomes the target of a group of peaceful but angry mermaids living in the wreck of an oil tanker off the coast of Green Gulf when he buys the land nearby. Liu, of course, has big plans to reclaim the area and make billions of dollars on property but he has to clear the water of its marine life. For this he gets help from a business partner, Ruolan (Kitty Zhang), whose new, agonizing sonar technology was designed to drive away Green Gulf’s dolphin population. The mermaid community, led by Octopus (Taiwanese pop star Show Luo) plots to send Shan (newcomer Jelly Lin, who would have been Shu Qi 20 years ago) to seduce the mogul and then assassinate him. Naturally, the whole plan falls apart in the film’s other major story arc, in which the infiltrator falls in love with the target.
“Fans of Chow’s brand of misanthropic nonsense can also expect more of the same, highlighted by a handful of memorable sequences, both visual and dialogue-based. That said, Chow’s traditional difficulty with female characters also continues: Kitty Zhang’s Ruolan wants to destroy the mermaids because, bottom line, she’s pissed that her boyfriend has dumped her. Women, right? His penchant for torturing them is alive and well, too, and his reliance on tried-and-true storytelling shows no signs of abating. To be fair, Chow still insists on going pitch-black from time to time: Octopus’ self-mutilating sushi-chef gag is as grotesque as it is hilarious; the mermaids are forced to live in grimy, polluted water with festering open sores; and the final open-water pursuit of Shan is like every gruesome Discovery special about whale poaching, or better yet, outtakes from the dolphin slaughter doc The Cove. Much of that darkness mitigates narrative predictability to a degree.
“The opening salvo involves a tour group visiting a kitschy museum of exotic animals, setting the tone for the rest of the film perfectly with its painfully over-the-top faux exhibits, the apex of which is the fake merman who emerges from a greasy bathtub. Nonetheless, Mermaid is generally marked by gleeful irreverence and in-your-face ecological politics with an unchecked development chaser. And while the story is particularly timely in China and Hong Kong, both overwhelmed of late by environmental recklessness and landfill mania, the core ideas and concerns will easily translate for foreign audiences.
“Chow and his army of writers (seriously, it took nine people to write this) get terrific support from a strong cast of regulars and newcomers who really sell the story, cheesy special effects aside. As Liu, Deng has the least to work with as the villain who finds love and redemption, but he runs with the narrative and handles Chow’s signature wordplay well when given the chance. The standouts, however, are Luo and Lin. Luo manages to balance fury with funny, effortlessly leading one of Chow’s requisite Greek chorus of village/restaurant/neighborhood observers. Lin’s is the kind of breakout performance by a young actress Chow is renowned for; he personifies the best supporting actress Oscar of Asia. Though we are often asked to laugh at her instead of with her, Lin’s unforced wholesomeness and innocence combined with her gameness lift the material above its station into something entirely new that Chow himself probably didn’t expect. Visual effects and 3D are suitably cheeseball and pedestrian, respectively — the former doing its part to propel the story and the latter adding, as usual, next to nothing.
Aftershock, China’s Top Grossing Film in 2010
“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 famed filmmaker Feng Xiaogang and loosely based on a novel by the Chinese-Canadian writer Zhang Ling, 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. The movie's story is sort of like a Chinese version of "Sophie’s Choice", in which a mother is forced to choose which of her two children will survive the Holocaust. “Aftershock” earned more than $30 million within three days of its release, a lot in China at that time, breaking the Chinese box office record previously held by “The Founding of a Republic”. By the end of summer of 2010 it earned $79 million.
“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 was expected to be shown 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”. Unfortunately for its makers and IMAX the film did not do so well in North America or elsewhere overseas. [Source: Richard Bernstein, New York Times, August 11, 2010; Shelly Kraicer, Chinese Cinema Digest]
“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 — with special effects going far beyond shaky-cam earthquake pics of old — moves quickly to a moving, family melodrama that has become famous for provoking rivers of tears from Chinese audiences. 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. 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.
Describing the opening of “Aftershock”, Bernstein 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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Let the Bullets Fly
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.
Founding of the Republic and Epic Chinese Patriotic Blockbusters
“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 film was part of a trilogy made up The Founding of a Republic (2009), The Founding of a Party (2011) and “The Founding of an Army” (2017). “The Founding of an Army’ was supposed to be a big deal. It is based on Party legend about the Aug 1, 1927 military uprising in Nanchang, Jiangxi province that gave birth to the Communist Party’s force which later became the People’s Liberation Army. But in the end “The Founding of an Army” was beat on badly in the box office by “Wolf Warrior II”. In "The Founding of the Party", 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 along side the main director Huang Jianxin. In this film, the cast received basic compensation and expenses instead of working for free which was the case in “The Founding of the Republic”.
The patriotic blockbuster “My Country, My People” (2019) grossed $451 million and was the world’s 13th-highest-grossing non-English-language film of all time, as well as China’s 10th-highest earner in history as of September 2021. The sequel “My People, My Homeland” (2020) is China’s 14th top title and ranks 15th globally for a non-English film with sales of $422 million. “My Country, My Parents (2021) also did well. [Source: Rebecca Davis, Variety, September 11, 2021]
Beginning of the Great Revival — the Great Patriotic Flop
In June 2011, “ Beginning of the Great Revival”, a blockbuster movie chronicling the founding of the country's ruling Communist Party was released. Released on the occasion of its 90th anniversary of the founding of the China's Communist Party, it cost $124 million, an all-time record for a Chinese movie, to make and spends two hours telling the tale of the rise of China's Communist Party with its heroic leader, Mao Zedong 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 the 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 of 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. 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. [Source: Michael Kan, PC World June 22, 2011]
Michael Kan wrote in PC World, “Two popular movie review websites in China had ther star rating system for the film disabled. The sites, douban.com and mtime.com, were also not allowing users to leave written reviews about the movie. 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. A Chinese microblog user took a screenshot before douban.com disabled its rating system. It showed the film receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews, with 87.8 percent of participating users giving it one star.
Lost in Thailand, Hong Kong and Russia
“Lost in Thailand”(directed by Xu Zheng, 2012) grossed the second most amount of money in China in 2013, taking in $190 million, most of it outside the theaters. The first of three films in the “Lost in” series that also included “Lost in Hong Kong” (2015) and “Lost in Russia” (2020), it was a huge hit financially and was relatively cheap to make, but also full racist and a had lot of outrageous slapstick and lowbrow humor that was really stupid. Rebecca Davis of Variety said the series “is so representative of kind of awful mainstream Chinese humor”...I haven’t watched all of them, because I VALUE MY SANITY. “Lost in Hong Kong” took in $253 million in 2015 and ranked third in the Chinese box office that year. [Source: IMDb, RADII]
Austin Ramzy wrote in Time magazine, “”Lost in Thailand” is by any measure a ridiculous movie. Two Chinese colleagues race to find their boss at a remote monastery in Thailand, battling bad traffic, gangsters, a snake, a kickboxer and, most important, each other, all in an effort to win the rights to an improbable invention: Super Gas, a liquid that turns a little bit of gasoline into a lot. Somehow it is doing ridiculously well.[Source: Austin Ramzy, Time magazine, January 17, 2013]
“While those films relied on big-budget special effects, the action scenes in Lost in Thailand look like something out of a Leslie Nielsen film. The plot feels like a rehash of The Hangover Part II and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Without a terribly original script or eye-catching pyrotechnics, what has made Lost in Thailand such a hit? It’s a question that the rest of the film industry badly wants to answer.” A “popular theory among reviewers, social-media commenters and Chinese friends who have seen the film is that it cleaves to the experiences of average Chinese in a way that few films do successfully. The film is a successor to Lost on Journey, a send up of the tribulations that Chinese face each year when they travel home for the Chinese New Year. Lost in Thailand takes the same formula and transfers it abroad to one of Chinese tourists’ favorite destinations.Xu Lang, played by the film’s director, Xu Zheng, is a savvy scientist transfixed on bringing his invention to market. He is racing his former friend and rival Gao Bo, played by Huang Bo, to find their boss at a rural Thai monastery to win approval of their respective development plans. On the flight, Xu meets Wang Bao, a simpleminded pancake maker from Beijing, clad in full tourist regalia, including the red hat from his tour group, and carrying a long list of goals for his voyage, including, of course, seeing Thai transvestites, or “ladyboys.” Wang, played by Wang Baoqiang, is something of a Chinese everyman, silly and easily mocked, wanting to photograph himself flashing a peace sign in front of everything, including the hotel chairs. But the obtuse pancake flipper has an honest heart and ultimately proves wiser than Xu or the comic villain Gao.
In January 2020, “Lost in Russia”, a Chinese comedy film, decided to forgo the theaters because of the coronavirus and went straight to streaming, a trend that is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. . It was the first Chinese film slated for theatrical release do this to take refuge online“Lost in Russia” was sold to ByteDance for about $93 million and released on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok) for audiences to watch for free. “Lost in Russia” was played 600 million times and watched by 180 million people. ByteDance made money from advertising and new subscribers to its services but its hard to imagine in recouped its $93 million. [Source: Inkstone, September 24, 2020]
Tiny Times: A Reflection of How Materialist Chinese Society Has Become?
The “Tiny Times” series was another very successful group of relatively low-budget films that seemed to tap into a particular chord that nobody anticipated was so strong or so large. The first of the series, “Tiny Times”, released in June 2013, movie brought in $77.6 million and was the 9th biggest box office earner in China in 2013. Altogether there were four Tiny Times films. “Tiny Times 2” was released about six weeks after “Tiny Times”, “Tiny Times 3" appeared in July 2014, “Tiny Times 4" in July 2015.
Ying Zhu and Frances Hisgen wrote in China File: “The film follows four college girls as they navigate romance and their professional aspirations, but the bulk of the film is about the female longing for a life of luxury in the company of a good-looking man. “Tiny Times” is not a women’s film, though it does feature female characters, draped from head to toe in designer clothes and easily mesmerized by the presence of supposedly visually stunning males — not the usual, muscle-bound Hollywood types, but Asian boys of androgynous demeanor with compact frames, equisite facial contours and the look of perpetual youth. [Source:Ying Zhu, Frances Hisgen, ChinaFile, July 15, 2013]
“At first glance, Tiny Times might be mistaken for a Sinicized Sex and the City, but soon it becomes clear that the four boy-crazed, mall-loitering characters in Shanghai have little in common with the fiercely independent career women in Candace Bushnell’s New York. Positioned in the market by Le Vision Pictures of Beijing as a coming of age story, the rite of passage for one dazed girl in the film is to grow into a competent personal assistant to her oh-so-handsome male boss whose aloof demeanor and penetrating gaze constantly destabilizes her. Another girl from a nouveau riche family, showers her boyfriend with expensive clothes and accessories. The third girl — chubby, suffering from stereotypically low self-esteem and emotional eating — is made fun of throughout the movie as she obsesses over young tennis player, the one man in the movie who actually possesses something resembling muscle. The fourth girl, a budding fashion designer from a humble background, is trapped in an abusive relationship with yet another good-looking boy.
“Taking a page from the book of popular East Asian “idol dramas” that cater primarily to youth in their teens and twenties, the film features popular singers, actors, and actresses, cast regardless of any actual acting ability. Good idol dramas frequently feature teen romance, in which brooding characters with dark secrets and painful pasts elicit pathos and real emotion. Tiny Times, however, has done away with complex story arcs and character development. The film looks great but ultimately lacks substance.
“The four characters’ professional aspirations amount to serving men with competence. The film is a Chinese version of “chick flick” minus the emotional engagement and relationship-based social realism that typically are associated with the Hollywood genre. The only enduring relationship in Tiny Times is the chicks’ relationship with material goods. The hyper-materialist life portrayed carries little plot but serves as a setting for consumption, and is more akin to MTV or reality TV than real drama. With its scandalously cartoonish characters, the film would have worked better as a satirical comedy, except that the director is too sincere in his celebration of material abundance to display any sense of irony.
“We were caught completely off guard, stupefied by the film’s unabashed flaunting of wealth, glamor, and male power passed off as “what women want.” Its vulgar and utter lack of self-awareness is astonishing, but perhaps not too surprising. It appears to be the product of full-blown materialism in modern, urban Chinese society. The film speaks to the male fantasy of a world of female yearnings, which revolve around men and the goods men are best equipped to deliver, whether materially or bodily. It betrays a twisted male narcissism and a male desire for patriarchal power and control over female bodies and emotions misconstrued as female longing.
“Much to our horror and dark amusement Tiny Times’ male director Guo Jingming, won the award for “best new director” at the recently concluded Shanghai International Film Festival. A film school dropout turned popular fiction writer, Guo aspires to be an author of contemporary Shanghai. “Guo claims to represent the post 1990s “me generation” and has apparently hit a home run with the youth audience. According to the latest statistics from the China Film Distribution and Exhibition Association, the average age of a moviegoer in China has dropped to 21.2 years in 2012 from from 25.7 years in 2009. Tiny Times’s owes its success partly to a marketing campaign that relied heavily on social media networks reaching tens of millions of students.
“It comes as a consolation to us that the film averaged low ratings of 3.4 and 5.0 out of 10 on China's two most-visited online movie portals, mtime.com and douban.com. It was also hated by the critics, who condemned its "unconditional indolence," "materialism," and "hedonism" (People's Daily); "shallow approach, inexplicable storyline, childish characters and lavish lifestyles" (Beijing Review); "pathological greed" (Beijing News); "unabashed flaunting of wealth, glamour and male power," and "twisted male narcissism" (ChinaFile, carried also by Atlantic Online). A Guangdong Daily critic, borrowing a line from Eileen Chang, delivered the most damning review of all: "The whole film is just like 'a luxuriant gown covered with lice.'" [Source: Sheila Melvin, Caixin, October 12, 2013]
Mr. Donkey was a surprise hit of 2016. Although it didn’t rack up huge blockbuster numbers and is extremely dark it did well enough at the box office as was well liked and appreciated by general Chinese public. Josh Freedman wrote in the Los Angeles Review of Books: Released in late 2016 and adapted from a play of the same name, Mr. Donkey scores an impressive 8.3 out of 10 rating on Douban, the highest rating for any movie in 2016. One person posted in Douban: “I heard something huge happened in Chinese cinema...Even my college roommate, who will only watch Hollywood movies, went to the theaters” to watch Mr. Donkey.” [Source: Josh Freedman, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 1, 2017]
“Set in a poor rural school in a northern desert region during the 1940s, Mr. Donkey tells the story of four teachers who decide to procure additional government funding by claiming a water-fetching donkey as a fifth teacher. When the education ministry inspector comes to check, the four real teachers cook up an elaborate ruse. A poorly-educated coppersmith who speaks a local dialect is shoved into the titular role, resulting in a series of increasingly twisted schemes to hold together the web of lies. The comedy gives way to a bleak portrait of individual and social failures, as the characters are forced to confront difficult and ultimately tragic, moral choices.
“Many Chinese films are built around big-name celebrities or existing manga or video game storylines guaranteed to turn out an existing fan base. Mr. Donkey, however, is of a different breed. Written originally for the big screen, it was adapted for the stage due to a lack of funding; after a successful run, the play was then readapted for the screen, keeping many of the original actors rather than bringing in movie stars. The industry was skeptical of the unorthodox approach. “They told us that without any celebrities nobody would release the movie. It will be straight-to-DVD — people will have to enjoy it in their homes,” the writer and director told the Paper. Fearing substandard box office turnout, the studio delayed the movie’s original release date by a week to allow more time for promotion, hoping that positive reviews could make up for the lack of star power. It worked.
“Mr. Donkey’s bouncy, tuba-infused score and its carnivalesque packaging give it the outward appearance of lighthearted farce. The movie’s comedic success, however, relies more on wordplay than sheer absurdity. The premise itself plays on a clever pun: The Chinese word for donkey (lyu2) sounds similar to a common Chinese last name (lyu3). Mr. Donkey is really Mr. Lyu, which would be similar to pretending the local coppersmith is a teacher named Mr. Smith in an American schoolhouse. In the original Chinese, the bait-and-switch on which the plot is based is as much of a clever joke as a ridiculous premise.
“After a first round of trickery appears to work, the education inspector offers the teachers a huge sum of money — but only on the condition that Mr. Donkey has his picture taken for a wealthy American benefactor who wants to support rural education in China. The coppersmith refuses: in his local village, photography is thought to result in premature death. The teachers plead with him to no avail until Zhang Yiman, a female teacher who refuses to conform to the era’s conservative norms, steps in.
“It is a deeply pessimistic portrayal of Chinese society. Ostensibly set in 1942 in Nationalist-controlled China, its social commentary is relevant in 2016, under a different political system, in a different economic context and with different social mores. When the urbane teacher Pei Kuishan remarks, “Maybe it’s not the peasants who are the people most lacking in education in China,” referring to the supposed intellectuals like himself and his fellow teachers, his words are equally directed at the educated elite under the Nationalists of 1942 and the Communist Party in the present. Thinly veiled capitalism has brought many of China’s urban citizens unimaginable wealth and status; as the luster of new wealth has begun to wear off, it has also sparked social criticisms of moral bankruptcy, environmental degradation and spiritual emptiness. Rural society, long the economic caboose of post-reform China, is attracting increasing attention from dissatisfied urbanites for whatever is left of its unspoiled environment, slower pace of life and communal values. Represented here by the once-innocent coppersmith, it, too, succumbs to the corrupting influence of the urban elite.
“But it is Mr. Donkey’s clever comedic foundations that allow for such a critical turn without being overbearing. The teachers’ fall from idealism to moral failure is sad, rather than mean-spirited; it is as much a social failure as an individual one. Zhang Yiman’s slow descent into insanity is tragic in part because of the comic wit — and willingness to wield that wit in defense of the school — that comes through in the early part of the film. She personifies the best of the school’s comedy-infused idealism, and is subsequently forced to bear the brunt of society’s failings when the lies collapse.
“Mr. Donkey is unique by contemporary Chinese movie standards, yet it fits into a long comedic tradition in China. In its clever wordplay and sharp social commentary, Mr. Donkey resembles , a northern Chinese stage performance which features a pair of actors engaged in quick, witty, and often quite dirty banter. “The essence of xiangsheng is satire: at its core is satire, not singing praises,” argued performer Guo Baochang in 2014. Chinese comedy is often subversive, a fact not lost on the ruling Communist Party. Their wary and often hostile attitude towards domestically produced comedy has made it difficult to produce content that is both funny and critical, while also heightening the social need for such content.
Top Movies in China in 2021
rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) The Battle at Lake Changjin — $894.1 million — $894.1 million — October 1 — Distribution Workshop
2) Hi. Mom — $821 million — $821 million — February 12 — Beijing Culture
3) Detective Chinatown 3 — $685.07 million — $685.07 million — February 12 — Wanda Visión S.A.
4) My Country. My Parents — $221.4 million — $221.4 million — September 30
5) F9: The Fast Saga — $216.935.282 11.211 — $216.935.282 — May 21 — Universal Pictures
6) A Little Red Flower — $216 million — $216 million — December 31
7) Raging Fire — $202 million — $202 million — July 30 — Emperor Motion Pictures
8) Chinese Doctors — $197.1 million — $197.1 million — July 9 — Bona Film Group
9) Godzilla vs. Kong — $188.7 million 38.437 — $188.7 million — March 26 — Warner Bros.
10) Cliff Walkers — $180.22 million — $180.22 million — April 30 — CMC Pictures [Source: BoxOfficeMojo.com by IMDbPro]
Detective Chinatown 3: Richard Kuipers wrote in Variety:“The mega-successful Chinese franchise about a mismatched detective duo tackling baffling crimes in foreign destinations continues with a wildly uneven caper set in Tokyo. With performances, plotting and visuals amped up to 11 as per usual, this hyperactive combination of Sherlock Holmes-type sleuthing and Three Stooges-style slapstick comedy offers plenty of zany fun, but the central murder-mystery contains so many convoluted diversions, digressions and detours it makes the whole enterprise play like a long stream-of-consciousness sketch with a glaringly hollow core. A smash hit domestically after opening on February 12, 2021 in the Chinese New Year season, “Detective Chinatown 3” has grossed $667 million in the three weeks since. Earning its place in history with the highest opening-day gross of any film in a single market ($163 million in China), the third Detective Chinatown film directed and co-written by series creator Chen Sicheng has benefited hugely by waiting a full year to enter local theaters. The most hotly anticipated of all seven major 2021 Chinese New Year releases, “Detective Chinatown 3” delivers exactly the kind of glossy, big-budget escapist entertainment that viewers are especially craving at this time. [Source: Richard Kuipers, Variety, March 6, 2021, 6:30 PM
Hi Mom is comedy about death and parenthood written by and starring female comedian Jia Ling. After two weeks the film had earned $700 million, according to box office tracker Maoyan, making it the first Chinese movie reach that level of ticket sales in such a short time and the highest-grossing film ever by a female director. Helen Davidson wrote in The Guardian: Jia wrote, directed and starred in the film, described as a tearjerker comedy, as a tribute to her own mother, who died when Jia was 19. The film has sparked a conversation in China about women, motherhood and parenting. Hi Mom follows the story of young woman, Jia Xiaoling, whose mother dies in a car accident in 2001. The character, who feels she hadn’t been a good enough daughter, travels back in time to 1981, determined to meet her mother and help give her a better life, including by attempting to set her up with a different man. [Source: Helen Davidson, The Guardian, February 25, 2021]
Jia told Chinese media she had been tormented after the death of her mother, but hoped audience would enjoy the spirit and optimism on display in the film, rather than focus on the sadness. “Our mum’s love for us is like air — it is there since we were born, so we often ignore it,” Jia told state TV. “But when we lose it, we experience a sense of suffocation and helplessness.” Audiences, who have only recently started returning to cinemas in large numbers since the pandemic, have been drawn to the story of family loss, and the identity of women as mothers. On microblogging platform, Weibo, one hashtag relating to the movie had been viewed more than 1.67 billion times, and reposted more than 580,000 times. “The movie is telling a story of cherishing family and the awakening of contemporary women’s consciousness,” wrote one audience member on review site, Douban. “Instead of advocating for childbearing and marriage, the movie shows us that before any woman becomes a mother, her first identity is herself.” “I have never thought before that my mum was also a young girl in the past,” said college student Yu Yanting after seeing the film in Shanghai.
Top Movies in China in 2020
rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) My People. My Homeland — $422 million — $422 million — October 1 — China Lion Film Distribution
2) The Sacrifice — $161 million — $161 million — October 23 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
3) Caught in Time — $80.43 million — $80.43 million — November 20 — China Lion Film Distribution
4) Ip Man 4: The Finale — $67.559.314 — $165.290.606 — December 20
5) Tenet — $66.6 million 22.180 — $66.6 million — September 4 — Warner Bros.
6) Shock Wave 2 — $63.8 million — $196 million — December 24 — Jetsen Huashi Media US
7) The Rescue — $61,603,829 — $62,993,829 — December 18
8) The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity — $56.7 million — $68 million — December 24
9) Sheep Without a Shepherd — $56,499,804 — $167,375,142 — December 13 — Wanda Media Co,
10) The Croods: A New Age — $51,585,000 — $53,691,000 — November 26 — Universal Pictures International (UPI)
The Sacrifice commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Volunteers Army entering the Korean War and served as a warm up to the global blockbuster , “The Battle at Lake Changjin” released a year later. Nancy Tartaglione wrote in Deadline: Locally-titled “Jin Gang Chuan”, the film grossed an estimated $53 million in its three-day bow. While not a record start for the year in the market, the actioner could hold well for the next weeks that currently see no major new releases. The movie boasts a strong pedigree — it’s co-directed by “The Eight Hundred”’s Guan Hu, “The Wandering Earth”’s Frant Gwo and “Brotherhood Of Blades”‘ Lu Yang and stars Wu Jing of “Wolf Warrior” fame. The launch was somewhat lower than expected given all that talent. It’s carrying a 9.4 on ticketing platform Maoyan, and a 6.7 on Douban. [Source: Nancy Tartaglione, Deadline, October 26, 2020]
The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is a period fantasy action film, Patrick Frater wrote in Variety, “by the ferociously talented and divisive director Guo Jingming. Adapted from the popular 2001 novel “Onmyoji” by Japanese writer Baku Yumemakura, the story sees the four best Yin-Yang Masters in the country called to the capital to slay the serpent demon, which awakens only every 100 years. In the meantime, a princess and the head of the royal guard conspire to end the serpent’s eternal life. It stars a young and attractive cast headed by Mark Chao (“Saturday Fiction”), Allen Deng (“Ashes of Love”), Jessie Li (“Port of Call”) and Wang Ziwen (“The Postmodern Life of My Aunt”), many of whom have appeared in Guo’s previous works as director. “The strong [Asian] aesthetics of the film might be appealing for international audiences. In the meantime, the story is universal and accessible to anyone,” Guo told Variety earlier this year. [Source: Patrick Frater, Variety, December 16, 2020, 12:00
Guo “enjoyed early success as a novelist, before adapting and directing his own contemporary aspirational titles “Tiny Times” and “Tiny Times 2” in 2013. He has continued to write and direct and is the co-screenwriter of “The End of Endless Love.”“The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity” was produced by Hehe Pictures, ZUI, Thinkingdom Pictures, Shanghai Film Group and Black Ant Film. International sales including the Netflix deal, were handled by Fortissimo Films.
Top Movies in China in 2019
rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) Ne Zha — $703,443,839 — $719,755,767 — July 26
2) The Wandering Earth — $690,994,017 — $690,994,017 — February 5 — Beijing Culture
3) Avengers: Endgame — $614,316,021 — $629,100,298 — April 24
4) My People, My Country — $430,271,195 — $446,085,323 — September 25 — Wanda Media Co,
5) The Captain — $410,228,118 — $416,246,690 — September 30 — Wanda Media Co,
6) Crazy Alien — $327,598,891 — $327,598,891 — February 5
7) Pegasus — $255,510,705 — $255,510,705 — February 5
8) The Bravest — $237,086,793 — $244,259,105 — August 1
9) Better Days — $219,795,904 — $222,577,596 — October 25 — Huaxia Film Distribution
10) Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw — $201,000,988 — $201,000,988 — August
11) Spider-Man: Far from Home — $198,999,549 — $198,999,549 — June 28
12) The White Storm 2: Drug Lords — $183,882,462 — $185,186,469 — July 5 [Source: BoxOfficeMojo,com by IMDbPro]
Ne Zha (directed by Yu Yang) was the top-grossing Chinese film in 2019, earning $710 million. Loosely based on the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel “Fengshen Yanyi” “(The Investiture of the Gods”), this animated film is about mythological figure Ne Zha who fights against fate.It generated great excitement in the animation community and became the second-highest-grossing film in Chinese box office history at that time, spurring interest in animated movies and Chinese anime across Chinese but not generating so much interest outside China. Emma Xiaoming Sun wrote: Invested and distributed by entertainment giant Enlight Pictures, Ne Zha took five years to complete, with a crew of 1,600 animators. Those efforts paid off spectacularly. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and the film was dubbed “the glorious light of domestic anime” [guoman zhiguang] by netizens and media alike — though this is a term that emerges every time a domestic anime production hits screens, reflecting how the market is usually dominated by animations from the US or Japan. [Source: RADII]
My People, My Country took in $420 million at the box office. A seven-part anthology film, it depicts seven significant historical moments since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The film is directed by seven prestigious directors: Chen Kaige, Zhang Yibai, Guan Hu, Xue Xiaolu, Xu Zheng, Ning Hao and Wen Muye, and stars many of China’s top actors. According to RADII: While many bemoaned the strict censorship of China’s film market as the 2010s drew to a close, one film that was never likely to hit such roadblocks was this tub-thumping pro-Party celebration of 70 years of the PRC. Full of big names, this was perhaps an example of CCP propaganda done relatively well, with the film striking a chord across multiple demographics. Muhe Chen wrote: It has a great cast and a big-name team of directors, and the reviews [were] pretty good. Different from most zhuxuanlu films about historical events, this one very much focuses on individual stories about Chinese development. [Source: RADII]
Better Days (directed by Derek Tsang) earned $220 million at the box office in 2019. It is about a bullied teenage girl who forms an unlikely friendship with a rebellious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of university entrance examinations. According to RADII: Better Days was one of a relative flurry of sudden releases at the tail-end of 2019 that had previously been pulled from cinema schedules with little notice over the course of the year The film saw Jackson Yee, from the boys pop group TFBoy, put in a stellar performance alongside increasingly bankable star Zhou Dongyu, playing a street savvy thug and bullied schoolgirl, respectively. Yalin Chi wrote: The award-winning team behind 2016 romantic drama Soul Mate dramatizes Chinese high schoolers’ experiences of on-campus bullying and the Gaokao, a controversial cut-throat national exam but also an irreplaceable selection system that gives equal chances to students from China’s disparate social-economic backgrounds. The film points out that the real pressure on teenagers don’t come from their peers, but is passed down by adults in dysfunctional families and a hierarchical society. [Source: RADII]
Top Movies in China in 2018
rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) Operation Red Sea — $575,849,072 — $575,849,199 — February 16
2) Detective Chinatown 2 — $541,406,438 — $541,406,438 — February 16
3) Dying to Survive — $451,169,495 — $451,176,639 — July 5
4) Hello Mr, Billionaire — $366,961,907 — $366,961,907 — July 27
5) Avengers: Infinity War — $359,543,153 — $359,543,153 — May 11 — Walt Disney Pictures
6) Monster Hunt 2 — $356,336,096 — $356,336,096 — February 16
7) Venom — $271,745,279 — $269,196,633 — November 9 — Sony Pictures Releasing
8) The Ex-File 3: The Return of The Exes — $261,250,711 — $306,449,457 — December 29
9) Aquaman — $261,246,391 — $291.8 million — December 7 — Warner Bros.
10) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — $261,224,207 — $261,224,207 — June 15
11) Ready Player One — $218,471,784 — $218,471,784 — March 30 — Warner Bros,
12) Us and Them — $209,221,331 — $209,221,331 — April 28
Us and Them is a bittersweet romance with broken promises, starring Zhou Dongyu, who won a Golden Horse Award for her performance in Soul Mate, and Monster Hunt’s lead actor Jing Boran. Julienna Law wrote in “Us and Them” tracks the evolution of one couple’s relationship as they try to make a name for themselves in late 2000s Beijing. After meeting on a train heading home for Chinese New Year, aspiring game designer Jing Qing quickly becomes taken with Xiao Xiao despite her insistence on finding and marrying a Beijinger with property. Over the span of a decade, the protagonists’ attitudes toward life and love change as they realize how difficult it is to make it in the big city, the daily grind sucking the passion out of their relationship. The movie juxtaposes scenes of the past with their present-day cathartic reunion, where they reconnect and reflect on their thwarted romance. Perhaps that sounds depressing, but there are plenty of sweet moments shared between the two. If the friends-to-lovers plot doesn’t pull at your heartstrings, maybe the moving-to-a-big-city-to-pursue-your-dreams theme will strike a chord. [Source: Julienna Law, RADII, December 19, 2018]
Operation Red Sea by Hong Kong director Dante Lam was 2018 biggest blockbuster and the second highest grossing film of all time in China at the time of its release, raking in $576 million. Law wrote: “I didn’t keep a tally of the number of limbs blown off in this one, but let’s just say this probably isn’t a movie to watch with young kids The military drama is about an elite division of Chinese special forces who are sent to a fictional African country to evacuate Chinese nationals after a civil war erupts. (The story is loosely based on the evacuation of Chinese citizens and foreign nationals from Yemen during the 2015 Yemeni Civil War.) As Variety put it, Operation Red Sea “is war propaganda that comes off as anti-war, a patriotic film so carried away by its own visceral, pulverizing violence that patriotism almost becomes an afterthought.” It’s a bit like if Michael Bay or Ridley Scott wrote a love letter to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Lots of explosions, good fight sequences, and a couple of one-liners that will make you tear up (“ ” — if you know, you know). Yes, it’s a ridiculous PLA propaganda piece, but keep that in mind when you’re watching and it’s at least an intriguing piece of blockbuster fluff.
Top Movies in China in 2016 and 2017
2017 — rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) Wolf Warrior 2 — $854,248,869 — $854,248,869 — July 27
2) The Fate of the Furious — $392,807,017 7,205 — $392,807,017 — April 14 — Universal Pictures International (UPI)
3) Never Say Die — $333,932,945 — $333,937,573 — September 30
4) Kung Fu Yoga — $254,531,595 — $254,531,595 — January 28
5) Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back — $239,553,888 — $239,553,888 — January 28
6) Transformers: The Last Knight — $228,842,508 — $228,842,508 — June 23 Paramount Pictures International
7) Dangal — $193,050,870 — $193,050,870 — May 5
8) Youth — $182,370,406 — $224,558,496 — December 15
9) Coco — $177,065,578 — $189,226,296 — November 24 — Walt Disney Pictures
10) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — $172,277,290 — $172,277,290 — May 26 — Walt Disney Pictures [Source: BoxOfficeMojo,com by IMDbPro]
2016 — rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) The Mermaid — $526,848,189 — $526,848,189 — February 8
2) Zootopia — $236,086,416 — $236,086,416 — March 4
3) Warcraft — $220,841,090 — $225,547,500 — June 8 — Legendary East
4) Captain America: Civil War — $190,429,000 — $180,794,517 — May 6 — Walt Disney Pictures
5) The Monkey King 2 — $185,402,420 — $185,402,420 — February 8
6) From Vegas to Macau III — $172,104,369 — $172,104,369 — February 8
7) Operation Mekong — $170,477,192 — $172,477,764 — September 30
8) Kung Fu Panda 3 — $154,304,371 — $154,304,371 — January 29
9) Time Raiders — $150,486,525 — $145,692,957 — August 5 — Huaxia Film Distribution
10) The Jungle Book — $150,431,684 — $150,431,684 — April 15 — Walt Disney Pictures
11) Skiptrace — $133,164,034 — $129,014,985 — July 21
12) The Great Wall — $130,164,766 — $170,962,106 — December 16
Kung Fu Yoga was the work of Jackie Chan and his frequent collaborator Stanley Tong. Even though it was widely panned and described as “a mess of stereotypes and bad references” it still did well at the box office. Krish Raghav, artist and writer, wrote: “A horrific cringe-fest that highlights all of the problems with “co-productions” (this one is Indo-Chinese) and honestly should have immediately put an end to the whole practice. It’s meant to be a take on Indiana Jones, and manages to successfully retain that series’ colonial gaze and terrible gender politics. It’s a Han chauvinist fever dream so laughably bad it swings to being hugely entertaining.’ [Source: RADII]]
Never Say Die was directed by by Song Yang and Zhang Chiyu and starred Ai Lun, Ma Li, and Shen Teng. Ethan Yunm wrote in The World of Chinese: Mahua FunAge started out in 2003 as a theater group, whose lives changed in 2015 when first-ever feature film, the theatrical adaptation Goodbye Mr. Loser, went on to become the biggest sleeper hit of the year, elevating most of the cast to stardom. Their follow-up, the modern classic Mr. Donkey, was arguably an even bigger success. In this film “they are back, tackling fighting, corruption, and body-swapping with the comedic timing that made them famous. [Source: Ethan Yunm The World of Chinese, September 6, 2017]
Youth by Feng Xiaogang, starring Huang Xuan, Miao Miao, Zhong Chuxi was a coming-of-age period drama about a group of youths in a PLA dancing troupe. On the eve if its debut, the film was suddenly pulled. Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times: One of China’s most popular directors, Feng Xiaogang, was determined to triumph at the box office with the release of his new film “Youth” during the weeklong National Day holiday. In the run-up to the film’s expected release later this week, Mr. Feng and his actors had been touring China, promoting the romantic drama set against the Cultural Revolution and China’s brief, harrowing war against Vietnam. [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, September 25, 2017]
“But then Mr. Feng’s premiere was abruptly canceled. Chinese film buffs say “Youth” appears to have fallen victim to official jitters ahead of a Communist Party congress next month, which is expected to give President Xi Jinping five more years in power. Mr. Feng said on Sunday that the film’s release had been indefinitely postponed, meaning the premiere would not coincide with the holiday, one of the most popular weeks at the country’s cinemas. But Zhan Jiang, a retired professor of journalism and communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said he thought it was “definitely” done for political reasons, a view shared by critics and fans who pointed to the party congress starting in Beijing a couple weeks after the initial release date. “It’s difficult to say what’s problematic about the film, and there shouldn’t be any major problems as it had already passed censorship,” Mr. Zhan said. “But October is a special time, first because National Day is highly political, and even more important this year there’s the 19th Party Congress.”
I Am Not Madame Bovary was Feng Xiaogang’s 2016 release, a dark satire about a village woman’s search for justice in the bureaucracy of mainland China. Edmund Lee wrote in the South China Morning Post: “A Kafkaesque tale about the Chinese bureaucracy’s indifference to the people’s legal rights, it finds Fan Bingbing in top form as Li Xuelian, a provincial woman who is swindled by her ex-husband and shunned by the courts. Li’s case is complicated in that the couple have faked their divorce to secure a new home, but the man ends up marrying another woman and even sullies Li’s name with claims of infidelity. Adapted by Liu Zhenyun from his own 2012 novel, I Did Not Kill My Husband, the dark social satire follows Li as she spends the next 10 years petitioning various levels of government, often concluding with a trip to crash the annual national congress in Beijing. Dry humour permeates the story, which sees embarrassed officials go from turning Li away to clumsily muffling her to save their jobs. [Source: Edmund Lee, South China Morning Post, November 21, 2016]
Top Movies in China in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015
2015 — rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) Furious 7 — $390.91 million — $390.91 million — April 12 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
2) Monster Hunt — $382.49 million — $382.49 million — July 16 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
3) Lost in Hong Kong — $253.59 million — $234.431.227 — September 25
4) Avengers: Age of Ultron — $240.11 million — $240.11 million — May 11
5) Jurassic World — $228.74 million — $228.74 million — June 10
6) Goodbye Mr. Loser — $226.161.196 — $226.161.196 — September 25
7) Mojin: The Lost Legend — $210.312.360 — $255.747.040 — December 17
8) Jian Bing Man — $186.35 million — $186.35 million — July 17 — Huaxia Film Distribution
9) From Vegas to Macau II — $154.13 million — $154.13 million — February 19
10) Monkey King: Hero Is Back — $153.02 million — $153.02 million — July 2
11) Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation — $136.76 million — $136.76 million — September 8
12) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies — $121.72 million — $121.72 million — January 23 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
13) Dragon Blade — $116.79 million — $116.79 million — February 19
14) Wolf Totem — $110.43 million — $110.46 million — February 18 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC) [Source: BoxOfficeMojo.com by IMDbPro]
2014 — rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) Transformers: Age of Extinction — $301 million — $301 million — June 27 — Huaxia Film Distribution
2) Breakup Buddies — $187.97 million — $187.97 million — September 30
3) The Monkey King Havoc in Heavens Palace — $167.84 million — $167.84 million — January 31
4) Interstellar — $121.99 million — $121.99 million — November 12 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
5) X-Men: Days of Future Past — $116.49 million — $116.49 million — May 23 — Huaxia Film Distribution
6) Captain America: The Winter Soldier — $115.62 million — $115.62 million — April 4 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
7) Dad. Where Are We Going? — $111.87 million — $111.87 million — January 31
8) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — $107,355,317 — $107,355,317 — August 29 — Huaxia Film Distribution
9) The Breakup Guru — $106.59 million — $106.59 million — June 27
10) The Continent — $100.11 million — $100.11 million — July 24 — Huaxia Film Distribution
2013 — rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) Journey to the West — $196.57 million — $196.74 million — February 10
2) Iron Man 3 — $121.2 million — $121.2 million — May 1 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
3) So Young — $114.71 million — $114.71 million — April 25 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
4) Pacific Rim — $111.94 million — $111.94 million — July 31 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
5) Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon — $96.4 million — $96.4 million — September 28
6) Personal Tailor — $87.87 million — $115.52 million — December 19
7) American Dreams in China — $86.45 million — $86.45 million — May 17 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
8) Finding Mr. Right — $82.68 million — $82.68 million — March 21 — Edko Films
9) Tiny Times — $77.6 million — $77.6 million — June 27
10) Gravity — $70.68 million — $70.68 million — November 19 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC)
11) Fast & Furious 6 — $66.49 million — $66.49 million — July 26 — China Film Group Corporation (CFGC) [Source: BoxOfficeMojo.com by IMDbPro]
2012 — rank — title — box office — total gross — release date — distributor
1) Titanic, 2012 3D Release — $145 million — $145 million — April 10
2) Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol — $101,232,739 — $101,232,739 — January 28
3) Life of Pi — $90,806,000 — $90,806,000 — November 23
4) The Avengers — $86.3 million — $86.3 million — May 4
5) Men in Black 3 — $77,246,700 — $77,246,700 — May 25 — Sony Pictures Releasing
6) Ice Age: Continental Drift — $67,891,012 — $67,891,012 — July 27— 20th Century Fox International
7) The Dark Knight Rises — $52,785,334 — $52,785,334 — August 27
8) The Amazing Spider-Man — $48,818,164 — $48,818,164 — August 27
9) Battleship — $48,328,711 — $48,328,711 — April 18
10) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island — $48 million — $48 million — February 11
11) Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted — $31,513,925 — $31,513,925 — July 22
12) The Hunger Games — $27,049,819 — $27,049,819 — June 15
Top grossing films in China in 2011 (in US$): 1) Avatar; 2) Transformers: Dark of the Moon; 3) Let the Bullets Fly (local); 4) Aftershock (local); 5) Kung Fu Panda 2; 6) Inception; 7) Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf 2 (local); 8) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; 9) If You Are the One 2 (local); 10) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Avatar grossed $195 million in China, the most of any market outside the US, and according to the 20th Century Fox film studio, the April re-release of his "Titanic" in 3D grossed $67 million in China in its first six days.
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 November 2021