Despite high hopes, Zhang Yimou's domestic blockbuster The Flowers of War failed to make the list of nominees for the Acad¬emy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year. Once again, Chinese dreams of taking home a golden statu¬ette have been shattered, begging a few questions: How can a film that was so well received domestically not even get recognized by the Oscars? Shall we focus on the shortcomings of the Chi¬nese film industry or ignore the slight? Is it even necessary for Chinese movies to enter the Oscar competition?
Many supporters of the Chinese film industry say, "Of course." China has become the third largest film pro¬ducer in the world, making more than 500 films annually. Its box office rev¬enue exceeded 13 billion yuan ($2.06 billion) last year. In addition, some remarkable home-made movies have started to emerge one after another, as more and more people grow interested in filmmaking. Most of all, as the world's second largest economy and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, why not vie for an Oscar?
The opposition also has its reasons. Many say that due to cultural differences, American judges are not able to understand or appreciate Chinese films. They assert that years ago, Chinese film¬makers tried to display local culture with unique Chinese elements to the West, sometimes resulting in rather grim depictions, such as Raise the Red Lantern, made in 1991. However, such films were dismissed as being too simple and one-sided. While the recent Flowers of War attempted to convey a more intimate portrait of Chinese culture to the West, highlight¬ing a par¬ticularly painful event from China's history, the effort turned out to be in vain.
Those who believe it's no use to court the Western film industry's big¬gest prize feel that these facts speak for themselves: No matter how hard Chinese filmmakers try, they still can¬not cater to the West's tastes. As a result, some war-weary filmmakers have already retreated from the Oscars, such as Chen Kaige and Gu Changwei, who have given up on being part of the 6,000 judges for Oscar.
If you're in this camp, theoreti¬cally, there is no reason to worry over China's absence from the Oscar game. As the economy continues to grow, China's attraction and influence will increase rapidly. Once China's com¬prehensive power catches up or even surpasses that of the US, the trends that have dominated the Oscar selec¬tion process will change. Today's China Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival will become tomorrow's Oscar gatherings. But this is all only an idealist's illusion.
Back to reality. Chinese movies must compete at the Oscars. The central government is devoted to intensifying overseas communica¬tions and increasing the international influence of Chinese culture in a bid to gain more clout and prominence in world culture. One of the most direct ways to achieve this goal is a domestic film winning an Oscar.
Winning the Oscar for best foreign film means that more viewers will be exposed to a country's culture, and moviegoers will often be prompted to seek out information and cultural products relating to the film's country of origin. Iranian film A Separa¬tion, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday, may spark a global wave of interest in Iranian culture.
The Oscar spotlight does more than increase a film's popularity: It relates to cultural rejuvenation and soft power building.