Sparkling box office for Spring Festival films indicates tremendous potential for movie consumption in Chinese society
Published: Feb 16, 2024 11:45 AM
Photo: CFP

Photo: CFP

According to Chinese movie ticketing platform Taopiaopiao, the box office for the 2024 Spring Festival holidays surpassed last year's 6.766 billion yuan and entered the top two in the history of Chinese Spring Festival holidays box office. 

I recently watched three movies, and I think they are all good. However, their overall level is not higher than the movies from last Spring Festival holidays. The higher box office compared to last year reflects the strong potential for movie consumption in Chinese society. Our filmmakers need to make further efforts. 

The current development of Chinese movies has many advantages. People often complain that our film creation faces various "restricted areas," but in terms of societal topics, the space for Chinese film creation is relatively large and relaxed. For example, Zhang Yimou's film Article 20 shows protest scenes and boldly explores the issue of judicial injustice in depth. A few years ago, the film I Am Not Madame Bovary specifically discussed the sensitive issue of petitioning. Another film, Johnny Keep Walking! which was aired last year, also touches on serious social issues. The breadth and depth of these films' topics lay the foundation for their attractiveness. The improvement of China's basic film production level has played a role in boosting their success, resulting in Hollywood films being collectively pushed off the Chinese box office charts. Now, almost any domestic film can be considered "watchable." The next step is to produce world-class masterpieces and promote the collective advancement of Chinese films on the global stage. 

The three movies that I watched are YOLO, directed, written and starring Jia Ling, a representative of the new generation of female Chinese directors, Pegasus 2, directed by Han Han and Article 20. They are all realistic-themed films, and the actors who play the main characters have some overlap. Although each of them is good, as mentioned earlier, I personally feel that their overall quality is not as good as films screened during last year's Spring Festival holidays. So I have a feeling that Chinese movies have been spinning in place for a year in such a good market environment. Of course, I am not an expert, so what I say may not be correct, or it may be biased.

The production level of Chinese films, in terms of technology, has caught up. Domestic films have surpassed Hollywood in the domestic market through competition, which is a great achievement. However, I hope that this does not mark the beginning of a "decoupling" between Chinese movies and the rest of the world, but rather a turning point for Chinese films to reach a higher level domestically and to go global. This requires Chinese realistic films to not only be loved by domestic audiences but also become increasingly "understandable" to foreigners, allowing them to empathize with us through these films. If Chinese films can gradually go global through market-oriented approaches, it will be a new process for the international community to re-recognize and understand China, and to establish common values between us.

The earliest understanding of the US by the Chinese people came entirely from the shaping of news propaganda. Later, American films and TV works entered China, showcasing the rich American society. Now, Western media's portrayal of China is completely stereotyped. If Chinese films and other popular culture do not go global, and if a large number of secular elements from China do not appear on the global internet, the outside world's perception of China is likely to be dictated by Western media for a long time.

So I hope that China's excellent film market can incubate outstanding works that are loved and enjoyed globally. Not only should our cultural policies provide greater space, but our internet public opinion should also be more tolerant of the interweaving and mutually influencing between Chinese and Western cultural elements. We should not restrict those elements in Chinese films that can resonate with both Chinese and foreign audiences. For example, comedies should not only make Chinese people laugh, but also be understandable to foreigners.

Chinese films need to establish their own big stars, including top-tier female stars. In the past, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan became famous in the West, but they were primarily seen as "Hollywood stars." It is a more challenging journey for Chinese stars to gain international recognition through their own films. The success of Chinese films and Chinese stars worldwide is definitely a complementary process. The backgrounds of our film stories should also be carefully selected and more diverse, enhancing the visual quality and international appeal of the films. Feng Xiaogang's film Be There or Be Square was entirely set in the US, and later, there was another film called Lost in Thailand, both of which achieved good results. Choosing such backgrounds should be encouraged as one of the approaches.

In conclusion, I am delighted by the comprehensive recovery of the Chinese film market, and I also hope that the films nurtured by this market will continue to progress. To achieve this, we need to keep introducing the world's best films and collaboratively cultivate the aesthetic taste of the Chinese people alongside Chinese films. Chinese films have already stood up, but they should not monopolize this vast market. Instead, the Chinese market should serve as the stage for them to expand globally.

The author is a Chinese media professional. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn