We turn now to another topic that stirs heated debate at China’s two sessions every year. Just prior to this year’s two sessions, a Korean TV show My Love from the Star became an internet sensation, with millions of people watching and discussing the show’s leading roles.
As viewers raved about the show, industry insiders in China asked why Chinese TV shows and movies have not been able to achieve the same level of international success. Now some session attendees are suggesting that China’s cultural industry, or as they put it, China’s soft power, should be strengthened.
My colleague Zhong Shi joins me now in the studio with more insights on how China’s cultural industry is flaring at the moment.
Q1. Zhong Shi, as an indicator of China’s cultural industry, Chinese movies are both loved and hated by Chinese viewers. What can you tell us about how Chinese films are doing at the moment?
Zhong Shi: A1. Yang Rui, let me start with the "love" part. Box office numbers tell us that China-made films are doing fine domestically. Thanks to four strong-grossing films, February saw over 3 billion yuan or about 488 million US dollars in box office revenues. It was the first time the country’s film industry cashed in so much in a single month. That would have been unthinkable a few years back, when only a few movies made by top-notch directors such as Zhang Yimou, Feng Xiaogang and John Woo could cross the 100 million yuan box office benchmark. Industry observers say China’s film industry is thriving thanks to smarter marketing efforts and a growing appetite in second and third-tier cities. Then of course we have those less content with the films available in cinema. They often cite plot, special effects and themes as the three most disappointing areas. In a poll conducted by CCTV News on its Sina Weibo page, more than 80% of respondents said "lack of creativity" is what hinders the Chinese movie industry from competing with Hollywood. One poll taker went so far as to say that Chinese films can’t even compare to those made by South Korea and Iran. He said Chinese films are empty and void, and that this reflects the spiritual world of Chinese people. Yang Rui?
Yang Rui Let’s now come back to "international" reputation. Some people would argue that to prove China has soft power, its "cultural products", meaning films and TV shows, must be accepted universally. How is China doing in that regards?
Zhong Shi: In terms of international recognition, China has an older generation of filmmakers that are relatively well-known internationally, thanks to the film awards they won. They include Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Jiang Wen. But what is happening now is that a younger generation of Chinese film directors are slowly gaining in popularity abroad. Directed by Diao Yinan, the Chinese film Black Coal, Thin Ice won the Golden Bear at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival just last month. Some industry insiders call this a major change in China’s film industry: a new generation of directors winning acclaim abroad and audiences at home. Then in terms of soft power, the best illustration of this is found in the increasing number of China-related elements in foreign films and TV shows. Those include the ping pong bat in Gravity, the portraying of Hong Kong in Pacific Rim, and the unmistakable furry animal in Kung Fu Panda. But other voices say instead of signs of soft power, these elements are merely a PR stunt for a better sales performance in China.