Arts & Entertainment

Chinese cinema, a domestic steamroller with limited int’l projection

Jesus Centeno and Alvaro Alfaro

Beijing, Dec 16 (EFE).- China aspires to become a dominant power in the coming years and sees a great showcase for soft power in cinema, but propaganda and the Chinese market’s peculiarities sometimes prevent a greater international reception.

The Chinese box office ousted that of the United States in 2020 thanks to better cinema attendances during the pandemic, although the greatest successes have been starred in productions aimed at a domestic audience.

Among them, the epic “Battle of Lake Changjin” – recounting the intervention of Chinese soldiers in the Korean War – is already the country’s highest grossing film in history after making 6 billion yuan (about $ 900 million).

Authorities want cinema to represent “socialist values,” with these films even being shown in schools and protected from criticism such as that of a former journalist who was arrested this year for “attacking the honor” of soldiers who fell in battle.

“The highest-grossing films in recent years have dealt with mild issues or were very generalized such as the comedy ‘Hi mum.’ They all conform to political correctness,” said Sun Yao, manager of a screening room.

Even renowned filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou – awarded at the Cannes and Berlin festivals – have taken up this “trend.” with the recent premiere of “Cliff Walkers,” a thriller set in the Japanese occupation, and soon that of “The Coldest Gun,” centered on a Chinese sniper who, during the same Korean War, killed or wounded 214 American soldiers.

For Sun, the most commercial Chinese films do not succeed abroad for political and cultural reasons, since they are intended to move Chinese audiences with elements difficult to translate to an international audience.

“China does not produce a ‘Squid Game’ – a series from neighboring South Korea – due to censorship and a lack of creativity and experience. But art has no borders and Chinese artists do not necessarily have obstacles to success abroad, as shown by filmmaker Chloe Zhao in the latest Oscar awards,” he said.

Directors such as Wang Zhe said creators should not blame restrictions for their failures.

“In the past, great works of art have been made under censorship,” she said, and blamed the limited projection on the “lack of maturity” of the film industry, which she said must “abandon empty productions.”

In China, they are betting on family comedies and romantic entanglements limited to meeting mere commercial expectations, which causes the quality to fall, according to Sun.

But this was not always the case: in the 1990s, a time of greater creative freedom, Chinese filmmakers achieved notable international success with films such as “Live!,” “Hero” and “The Red Lantern” by Zhang Yimou.

And in 1993, Chen Kaige’s “Farewell to My Concubine” became the first Chinese film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Later came directors such as Jia Zhangke, who narrates the adventures of miners, factory workers or pickpockets who have to deal with the frantic development of the country in films such as “Still Life” (2006) or “A Touch of Violence ” (2013), exhibited in Cannes or Venice.

More recently, in 2019, science fiction film “The Wandering Earth,” based on the novel by Liu Cixin, was one of the Chinese titles with the greatest projection because it was shown on Netflix, as well as one of the best exponents of the kind of film Beijing supports to promote innovation.

Other filmmakers have opted for more risky styles, as shown by the monumental “An Elephant Sitting Still” by director Hu Bo, who committed suicide after finishing filming, or the dreamlike “Long journey into the night,” by Bi Gan, whose magical realism was compared to the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

But the thematic restrictions are always present: Wang Bing, who produced a 9-hour documentary on deindustrialization in 2001, had to collaborate with European production companies in 2018 to release “Dead Souls,” a film about Chinese re-education camps also screened in Cannes. EFE


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