By Jon Winkler
The youth of China are flocking to see American blockbusters more than the culture-based films of the Mainland.
The stylish and historically-rich films produced and distributed in the homeland are losing young adult audiences in China in favor of big budget, large-scale movies produced in the West. These Hollywood hits draw attention for their action-driven plots and impressive computer generated effects. According to students at the Communications University of China in Beijing, current Chinese films have boring plots and less excitement than Hollywood films.
Fu Yu, one of the students noticing the shift, believes that a Hollywood film is a window into the West for Chinese youth.
According to her, “Hollywood films have interesting Western fashion and culture, which attracts young people.”
Fu also points out that Chinese teens have “diversified tastes” when it comes to film choices.
One student with a varied taste is Liu Gefei, who enjoys foreign films, especially American and French ones. She says that good Chinese films are rare.
Other Chinese students also say they find Hollywood films more exciting and fresh than Chinese films. One of them is Wenhao Ma, a native of Nanjing who is attending Stony Brook University. He prefers the computer-generated special effects of films like “Star Wars” and “Watchmen,” along with the intricate plots in films like “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.” In fact, Mr. Ma even found Western films enlightening.
“I watched ‘The Matrix’ when I was in middle school,” said Ma, “and I started to learn English from those Hollywood films.”
Even more so, Ma was inspired by Western films to live life to the fullest, specifically referencing the film “Remember Me,” a romantic drama taking place around the time of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. The film’s highlighting of the loss from the attacks impacted Wenhao the most, as it taught him to “do things in the moment, because you don’t know what happens in the next second.”
This is not entirely a jab at films from the Mainland. In fact, some students see foreign audiences overlook the main themes of some Chinese films. An example of this is the 2013 film “The Grandmaster,” a Chinese film about the legendary teachings of a martial arts master. Chinese students believe Western audiences will only have interest in the film because it could involve a lot of fight scenes, even though other students draw themselves to Hollywood movies for CGI-laced action.
Many young Chinese movie fans believe American audiences misunderstand the use of martial arts. In China, kung fu is used only for self-defense and actually represents “good health.” Furthermore, Chinese students point out that “The Grandmaster” actually conveys themes of peace, tolerance, spirit, love, and harmony.
As far as Chinese films are concerned, Wenhao sees a few problems that make him skip the cinema. For one, he finds that the films “focus too much on the past,” which is why he prefers the futuristic special effects of Hollywood movies. He also finds he can’t relate to Chinese films because he feels that those movies are made for people in the large cities and not the other citizens surrounding them.
Another Chinese academic noticing the change in tastes is Xing Chong, a student at Communications University in Beijing. Although he prefers the films of the Mainland for its focus on Chinese culture, he has enjoyed Hollywood hits like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” and is also aware other people his age go see Western films more than Chinese films. In regards to film development, he believes that there is a “gap between Hollywood and China.”
Chong believes that the “conception of film” he sees is different. The Chinese films that stand out to him are the ones that “focus more on the relationships of people,” whereas the Hollywood films that are released in China are “more commercial.”
Emily Fu notes how popular Hollywood films can be due to more action and effects and less complex dialogue, but popular Chinese films rarely make it past a foreign film festival.
“Chinese films do not translate for foreign countries, so foreigners do not know about Chinese cultures.”