China has the fastest growing film industry in the world. Our special contributor Kevin Lee of fandor.com travelled to China to explore its booming movie scene. Here's his report.
China is a nation on the move - and Chinese movies are no exception. Here you'll find the world's fastest growing movie industry, where luxury Cineplex’s with 3D projectors and IMAX screens cater to a booming leisure class.
Chinese movie theaters raked in $1.5 billion last year and are expected to make more money in the next five years than even American movie theaters. Now Chinese moviegoers still prefer to watch Hollywood imports, but there have been a few breakout hits from the mainland.
Let the Bullets Fly is a rollicking, action-packed period comedy in which high-level swindlers face off with a powerful bandit played by Chow-Yun Fat. This year it became Mainland China's all-time top-grossing movie.
But there is another side to the boom in Chinas movies and society. You can find it in the inland regions of China, such as Jinggangshan, where Chairman Mao sowed the seeds of the Communist Revolution. It's also where I spent a year as a college teacher. This is the classroom where I taught English writing 12 years ago. Back then I was so movie obsessed that I'd show a movie to my students every week and have them write about it. I even used reviews from Roger Ebert's website as writing models.
My students loved Hollywood movies even if they didn't always understand them. I once spent a entire class trying to explain the plot of Star Wars. But now thanks to the Internet, Chinese movie lovers can learn about the latest films on their own, and all though there are no cineplexes in Jinggangshan, they can still watch movies online. It's a far cry from the days before China had entered the global era. When people lived and worked in communal units that provide most of their daily needs. They even had their own theaters; like this one that is now abandoned.
It’s a forgotten history recalled in the movie 24 City by Jia Zhang-Ke. 24 City explores 50 years worth of Chinese history contained in obsolete factory work unit before it and all the stories and memories it contains are destroyed to make way for the future.
But one of the most exciting movements in Chinese film is the wave of independent documentaries that show a side of China not available in the official media. Instead of offering escapist entertainment, independent filmmakers are trying to connect with China's reality. One such filmmaker is Jian Yi, who graduated from the same college where I taught. He directed the film Supergirls, about dispossessed young women who dream of becoming overnight pop stars on China's version of American Idol. Now he runs the IFChina Original Studio, which gives villagers access to media to document their own lives.
Jian Yi: "I think we need all kinds of films. You need films that can make people relax like commercial films. And you also need films that can make people think and reflect on their own lives. Everybody knows China is one of the most fast-changing nations in the world. As someone who was born and grew up here I feel our generation's responsibility to pass on our memories to the next generation."
As you can see, films and filmmaking are playing a vital role in Chinese society. And the best Chinese movies are a true reflection of this country's breathtaking transformation.
Thanks so much, Kevin. Now, Kevin mentions in his segment “24 City” by Jia Zhang-Ke and I can’t think of a better introduction if you’re interested in what’s going on in Chinese cinema than that director’s films, especially “Platform” and “Unknown Pleasures.”