China Film File: ‘Vulgar’ Films, Sichuan Boxers, and Indie Featurettes

Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In today’s news: Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor breaks opening records, independent microfilms catch on, and boxing documentary China Heavyweight comes to the mainland.

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Personal Tailor.

Yesterday saw the $11.5 million, record breaking (2-D) opening for Feng Xiaogang’s surreal comedy Personal TailorThe film follows a professional group who will make their client’s dreams, no matter how elaborate, come true for a day. A major presence in China’s film culture, director Feng Xiaogang is frequently critical of China’s film censors who have likewise labeled his films as “vulgar.” No stranger to controversy, Xiaogang replied to their criticisms in a recent interview:

“Do not underestimate our audience’s discretion. If what they like is vulgar, I suggest that the academy set up an award for the most vulgar foreign language film, and if they gave me that award I would be happy to take it.”

Also celebrating a strong opening this week is Hong Kong police actioner Firestorm starring Andy Lau, which has grossed $27 million in it’s first four days.

Andy+Lau+in+Firestorm+movie+still

Firestorm.

China’s box office results for December 9-15, courtesy of Box Office Mojo. Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 1.05.13 PM

Often made and watched on cell phones for shoestring budgets, independent microfilms are catching on in China. Distributed over the internet, a recent wave of shorter length microfilms have proven immensely popular with China’s 20-somethings; however, the featurettes are often characterized as mostly lowbrow and slapstick, unlike the more socially conscious Chinese independent films of the last decades. At the same time, “the phenomenon is certainly redefining what cinema is and offers some intriguing and sometimes subversive alternatives to the norms of mainstream film industry,” says Zhen Zhang, a cinema studies professor at NYU. Because the films must be distributed on China’s restricted online video platforms like Youkou and Tudou, they are still far away from grappling with politically sensitive topics. However, some individuals are beginning to use the format to explore edgier issues like gay relationships, or even going as far as attempting to show grainy recordings of political protests.

A report finds that China’s homegrown films are still not performing very well abroadIn fact, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains China’s highest grossing film outside of the country.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang’s documentary China Heavyweight sees a rare wide release in China this weekWhile documentaries are not commonly released into China’s mainstream theaters, the film, which depicts the lives of young Chinese boxers and their coach in Sichuan, is hitting 200 screens this week. Chang’s previous works Up the Yangtze and Last Train Home highlighted social issues and difficult living conditions brought about by China’s recent modernization and are “heavily bootlegged in China” according to a producer of China Heavyweight, Bob Moore.

China Heavyweight

China Heavyweight

The British Film Institute has laid out plans to run an extended four-month China film season in 2014. The season will showcase titles from China’s silent film age all the way to contemporary films like Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love that, according to BFI, “will trace the shared cultural and historical connections between the cinemas of the Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.” Also programmed for the season is a showcase of films by Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, considered by some to be China’s “Spielberg.”

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love.

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