Foreign films face stiff competition in Chinese mainland market
‘New Gods: Nezha Reborn’ VS ‘Tom & Jerry’
Published: Feb 25, 2021 06:33 PM

 Promotional material for New Gods: Nezha Reborn Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

The Chinese mainland film market has entered the epilogue of the Spring Festival holiday with a total box office of more than 7.8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) stunning domestic as well as overseas moviegoers.

Seeing the recovery and rise of the market, major Hollywood filmmakers, such as Disney, are bringing their films to the mainland in order to get a piece of the pie.

The animated/live action movie Tom & Jerry is the first imported film to test the waters, but looking at pre-sales and Chinese netizens' reaction to the film's trailer, the film's performance in the mainland may not live up to Warner Bros' expectations. 

Compared with the Chinese animated movie New Gods: Nezha Reborn, which grossed more than 350 million yuan during Spring Festival holiday and has a 7.3/10 on media review platform Douban, Tom & Jerry has only earned 4.59 million in presales, just one-seventh of Nezha Reborn's presales before its debut.  

The current situation for Tom & Jerry demonstrates that it will be more difficult than ever for foreign films to compete in China as the quality of Chinese films has sharply increased.

"The stories of Tom and Jerry are too old for Chinese audiences and the film does not find a new highlight to attract them," Shi Chuan, vice chairman of the Shanghai Film Association, told the Global Times. "Its release date also has problems. Why not choose to debut in summer vacation?"

Other movies such as Raya and the Last Dragon and Godzilla VS Kong have been confirmed for release in the Chinese mainland. However, it is difficult to predict how Chinese audiences will react to them.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, many countries' film industries have come to a standstill.

Some Chinese netizens have lamented that the foreign films released right after the 2019 Spring Festival holiday, such as Alita: Battle Angel and Green Book, were of a far better quality than what is coming post-2021 Spring Festival. 

"The domestic market environment that Hollywood faces is far worse than what China faced a year ago. Although the entire industry was also in a state of anxiety in China, overall no one lost confidence in the film market, which is different from the current pessimistic sentiment toward the US market in Hollywood," Xiao Fuqiu, film critic based in Shanghai, told the Global Times.

New takes on old characters

New Gods: Nezha Reborn is a 2021 Chinese computer animated fantasy film from Chinese studio Light Chaser Animation. Director Zhao Ji said that it took four years to develop, and involved detailed research on references to the classic character of Nezha. 

It is a new take on the story and sees Nezha reincarnated in a futuristic punk world. To best embody the reincarnated Nezha's changing emotions and make him feel more alive, the crew painstakingly used dedicated facial animation systems to create even the most minor facial expressions. Even various hairstyles were created and discarded many times before they landed on the characters current spiky hair.   

"To give him spirit, the character director would edit him again and again, sometimes even just changing the shape of the corner of his eye," said Zhao.

Tom & Jerry combines live action and animation to bring the classic cartoon duo to modern cinemas. However, compared with the time to develop Nezha, Warner Bros seems to have been in a rush to bring the characters to the big screen, which has resulted in some issues quality wise. 

"I love Tom and Jerry, but why do those characters in the trailer look so cheap and two dimensional, like stickers on my fridge," said a netizen on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo. 

"Bad effects, Bad cartoon. Incredible in the 21st century to have such bad technique," said a netizen who rated it one out of 10 on IMDb on February 18.

Style and substance

New Gods: Nezha Reborn makes use of China's classic IP, the story of Nezha. However, unlike other animated films about the character, New Gods adds a modern punk-inspired twist to the ancient fantasy story, while presenting an innovative cinematic experience by balancing two bipolar aesthetic styles. In the new film, Nezha has turned into a cool punk boy. According to Zhao, this type of modern/mythical style of animation focusing on Chinese characters is groundbreaking and has never been done by Hollywood before as Chinese aesthetics can be too nuanced to be properly harnessed by Western countries.  

 Promotional material for Tom & Jerry  Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Tom & Jerry: Even though the story is about the two main characters' exciting move to a New York City hotel, the 2021 Tom & Jerry film seems to still be playing it safe by attempting to catch moviegoers' attention with the adorable but tired scenario of a cat chasing a mouse. The addition of live-action actors may make the film feel a bit different, but the story might still be a bit bland.  

"The storyline was so boring and typical…" posted a netizen on IMDb. 

"It is senseless, illogical, irritating at the same time. I didn't even complete the movie. I walked out of the theater," noted another.