top of page
  • dgeneratefilms

Hail! Hail! Hail! The State of Chinese Cinema, Part One

This is the first part of a three-part essay by Zhang Xianmin on the state of contemporary Chinese cinema. Parts two and three will be published later this week.

Translation by Yuqian Yan

Hail! Hail! Hail! The State of Chinese Cinema in 2009

I. Long Live the Motherland

The Founding of a Republic (dir. Han Sanping)

The Founding of the Republic reflects many demands of the film industry beyond film itself, and it has all but achieved these goals.

First of all, it reveals a reality that is shared by many other fields and industries. In the past several years, resources have been accumulated and controlled by several state-owned, monopolistic enterprises. This is a common phenomenon in the economy.

In the world of culture, different kinds of people collaborated on the one blockbuster film of 2009. For the 60th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China, this blockbuster was eventually taken over from big-name directors by the presidents of state-owned enterprises. It’s almost like the chief director of China Central TV directing the Spring Festival Gala. The only distinction of this year is that in the past fifteen years, imported blockbusters were the nightmare of Chinese films every month; in the past five years, the domestic film market was dominated by three Chinese blockbusters every year. In 2007 and 2008, domestic blockbusters such as Lust, Caution, Assembly and Warlords all had difficulties in production or in passing the censors. Luckily, there is only one domestic blockbuster in 2009; others were small productions. Moreover, this film is very safe; the government wouldn’t give the film bureau officials any trouble.

This film fully reflected a truly exceptional marketing plan. Immodestly speaking, we can achieve the American model of integrated marketing. (I don’t say “we, too, can achieve”, because no other country can achieve that. Even American economic newspapers envy us.) A standard American blockbuster takes up about one-fifth of domestic screens when it is first released. But in our country, an American blockbuster takes up three-fifths of theater screens; some domestic blockbusters can take up four-fifths. Like some people commented online, the producer of this film and film bureau officials have fully comprehended Chairman Mao’s strategy and tactics in the War of Liberation (the Chinese Civil War), concentrating superior military forces to fight a large-scale battle of annihilation. Only the security forces in Beijing during National Day are comparable to the protection of the promotion of this film.

There are two other confrontations.

The first is Han Sanping vs. Zhang Yimou. The so-called “59-year-old phenomenon” can also be found in other industries in China. The most influential figures in Chinese cinema are almost the same age as the state. They dream of brilliant success before their upcoming retirement. Mr. Han finally became the only person in the entire Chinese film circle whose popularity and power surpassed Mr. Zhang. The problem is that the pivotal moment of retirement will hugely affect Han; he certainly can’t direct the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Republic. But Zhang can probably continue to work until China next holds the Olympics.

Han Sanming (in Still Life, dir. Jia Zhangke)

Han Sanping (director, The Founding of a Republic)

The other confrontation is Han Sanping vs. Han Sanming. Many readers might not know Han Sanming. He’s an amateur actor who plays the male protagonist in Still Life. The least reliable rumor in the film circle is that Han Sanming is Han Sanping’s brother. The person who made up this rumor is hateful, with absolutely no morality. He positions himself against Han Sanping, as well as Han Sanming, and makes an idiotic judgement on physical looks, personal background and views on film. The author of this article solemnly clarifies here: there’s no kinship between Han Sanping and Han Sanming. Our guessing only reveals our polarized self-judgement: we only have two options, we either become Han Sanping, or become Han Sanming.

Since there will be many other films on the founding of the Republic in the future, I want to remind those individual “main-melody” directors who are not able to attract big investments or film celebrities: you’ll have to come up with other special strategies. My dear readers, don’t assume that I’m making this up. A DV farmer from the south of Shanxi spent more than 50,000 yuan (7,000) dollars out of his own pocket and for over three years made an epic film on the Long March.

Zu: Warriors of Magic Mountain (2001, dir. Tsui Hark)

The special strategy, as I predict would be: in five years, these self-funded, original productions on revolutionary themes will incorporate the wuxia conventions of Jin Yong: that is to film Baota Mountain as Hua Mountain, and film Jingang Mountain as Wu Tang Mountain. In ten years, “main-melody” epic propaganda films will follow Tsui Hark’s example: that is, PLA soldiers climbing over the snowy mountains and traveling across the grasslands will be shown in the style of Zu Warriors (dir. Tsui Hark, 2001) where Emei, Kongtong, and Kunlun schools fight and compete with each other, flying in the sky and disappearing into the earth.

Many directors of small-budget “main-melody” films complain about repression and unequal competition, such as the Ye Daying’s Tiananmen Square. For me, that’s just the words of jilted women. Why don’t you sacrifice your individualism to satisfy the collectivism of the China Film Group? The Republic was founded by millions of revolutionary martyrs. This is called “I sacrifice your blood to build a new nation.” (This is adapted from Lu Xun’s famous poem “I sacrifice my blood to build a new nation.)

The Founding of the Republic tells us that as long as power and promotion work together, it’s not a problem to attract celebrities and audiences. For those who watched this film, don’t blame the celebrities as cheap and despicable. If you have seen the film, you are not any better than them.

Tomorrow, Part Two: Long Live Capital: Non-stop Financing and the Market


bottom of page