Welcome to our weekly round-up of all things film in China, from culture to censorship. In this week’s film news, we’re recapping the top stories surrounding Chinese New Year, which is one of, if not the most competitive and money-making release periods for films on the mainland. During the holiday, families were brought together on vacation from work and school, making outings to the theater a popular activity (and thus yielding some of the year’s highest grosses).
The mainland’s online audience was let down to learn that 50 Shades of Grey was blocked from online streaming sites. Last Friday, streaming media providers LeTV, iQiyi, and v.qq had to explain to viewers at the last minute that the film couldn’t be shown for “special reasons”—likely because authorities deemed it too risqué for Chinese audiences. Although there has been no talk of establishing a future release date, the censorship has certainly piqued viewers’ interest: the film was last Friday’s most-searched subject on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.
Jackie Chan’s historical genre epic Dragon Blade triumphed at the box office over Chinese New Year. Budgeted at $65 million and featuring Hollywood stars Adrien Brody and John Cusack alongside Chan, the 3D spectacular grossed US$71 million over the New Year holiday and has already raked in over $101 million by now. The film didn’t receive much love from critics, who labeled it as a patriotic grab for money. Chan fired back at them in a television interview, stating, ”I have always been a patriot. Is it wrong? If people are cursed for being a patriot, please curse me,” continuing, “I hope chairman Xi [Jinping] gets to watch this film.”
Set in 48 B.C., the film tells the story (which claims to be “inspired by true events” but seems for the most part fictionalized) of a Han Dynasty military commander played by Chan who joins forces with a Roman army general played by Cusack. The addition of Cusack and Brody is the latest in a trend of Western actors in mainland films. Brody, no stranger to Chinese historical blockbusters, has also appeared in 2012’s Back to 1942.
French-Chinese co-production Wolf Totem represents a return to the Chinese fold for the director of Seven Years in Tibet. Coming in fourth at the box office of the holiday and backed by the state apparatus China Film Group (CFG) with the state group’s chairman La Peikang listed as a producer, the film is based on one of China’s best-selling contemporary novels and was produced in tandem with the film’s French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (who has found his way back into the Chinese government’s good graces after previously directing the pro-Dalai Lama film that reportedly got Brad Pitt banned from China).
Featuring the story of a student from Beijing who travels to Mongolia during China’s Cultural Revolution, the book, while incredibly successful, is considered fairly critical of the Chinese Communist Party, and has even been called “fascist” by one critic for its depictions of rural farmers. Adding to the film’s cultural issues is the unenthusiastic response from China’s ethnic Mongolians themselves, who have lashed out against the film’s portrayal of their ethnic group and its “forced culture.” Moreover, Zhang Rong, the adapted novel’s author, publicly affirmed in the past that he was jailed for involvement in China’s Tiananman Square protests.
Despite all of the controversy surrounding the film, Annaud claimed it wasn’t censored, stating, “What I can say is that I had carte blanche at every level until this day. The movie you see is the same movie I cut.” With Annaud’s apparent freedom of vision clearly a calculated gesture by the CFG, reports say that while the film adaptation does have an environmentally conservationist theme, the novel’s more subtle political messages—some of which favor democracy—have been lost in the transition.
A short film that encourages parents to support gay children who come out became massively popular in China, receiving over 106 million clicks on the mainland during New Year festivities. Homosexuality was decriminalized in China less than two decades ago, and still remains taboo in mainstream Chinese culture. An organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays China released the short in hopes that their message would resonate with families drawn together during the holiday.