Report reveals Chinese films’ overseas influence; ‘common value of mankind’ buzzword
Published: Mar 13, 2024 09:51 PM
Promotional material for Chinese animated films <em>New Gods: Yang Jian</em> (center) and Ne Zha (bottom left) Photos: Courtesy of Maoyan

Promotional material for Chinese animated films New Gods: Yang Jian  Photos: Courtesy of Maoyan

Surveying overseas moviegoers in countries like the US, a research report has recently revealed the global influence of Chinese films. Terms such as "honor," "the best" and "common value of mankind" were found to be some of the buzzwords that overseas media uses to describe Chinese film productions. 

The report has detailed the overall performance of Chinese films overseas from 2020 to 2022. Yet, it was only recently launched by the Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture, a research center belonging to Beijing Normal University.

Among different film genres, drama, comedy and animated films were three major categories that were most popular among overseas audiences. In the drama film category, the 2022 production Lighting up the Stars has earned a great reputation and sparked wide discussion among overseas moviegoers. The film depicts a touching story between a funeral director who is also a former prisoner and a young orphan girl. The two seemingly much unrelated characters later develop a father-daughter bond and become a source of hope for the other. 

Lu Jingci, a film marketing expert, told the Global Times that Lighting up the Stars earned moviegoers' attention as its characters were "nontraditional and unexpected" for a family-themed movie. Also, the film's theme relating to "funerals" and "a prisoner" were also like "taboos that intrigue audiences."

"It is a good production that reveals the kindness in human nature, and this quality is very much praised by Western films as well," Lu said. The expert also emphasized that Chinese films like this can earn international applause as they convey the common values of mankind. 

Another Chinese film Ballon was also highly rated by overseas audiences. Shot by Chinese director Pema Tseden, the film depicts an ordinary family's story through the cultural lens of Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region. 

Chinese animated films have also been thriving in recent years. According to the survey, productions like New Gods: Yang Jian have intrigued Western moviegoers. Unlike animated works produced by Western powerhouses like Pixar, Chinese productions are unique due to "their narratives being predominantly rooted in traditional Chinese literature," Li Xun, an animator and a scriptwriter, told the Global Times. 

Yang Jian, the hero of New Gods: Yang Jian, was inspired by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel Fengshen Yanyi, or The Investiture of the Gods. Li told the Global Times that these Chinese characters were much more "profound" than cartoon characters often seen in Western productions. 

Directed by filmmaker Jia Ling, the 2021 comedy Hi, Mom set multiple new records in Chinese film history. The comedy was praised in overseas markets. According to the survey, it was the Chinese comedy most frequently mentioned by overseas media. Variety's review described it as a "top-notch tearjerker." 

The successful Chinese production intrigued not only fans, but also overseas studios. Sony Picture has now bought the rights to a remake. 

Also enclosed in the international survey, according to a semantic analysis of Google News media reports, Western media was found to have spoken generally positive about Chinese films debuting in the past few years. Lighting up the Stars again sparked many discussions on the social media platform X. 

Hu Zhifeng, a Beijing Normal University professor and the vice president of the China Television Artists Association, said that Chinese films are an extremely important window for Westerners to understand diverse Chinese culture. 

"Two types of films need to be more frequently presented to overseas audiences. The first one are films that reflect China'srealities, and another type are films that demonstrate the aesthetics and spirit of Chinese culture," Hu emphasized.  

The international survey has been carried out since 2011. Including the current report, a total of 12 surveys have been conducted. The reports are dedicated to providing the Chinese film industry with useful insights for engaging with the overseas market.