26 February 2010

REMAKES AND REBOOTS I HAVE LIKED AND DISLIKED

In a further attempt to ‘reboot’ Necrotic Cinema I going to take a stab at a sort of list thing. It is my first ever and I was inspired by a post over at Chuck Conry’s Zombies Don’t Run blog. I usually visit a series of blogs from my blogroll each morning with some stout coffee and see what other people are recommending or bashing. Unfortunately I do not always have time to leave a good comment but I am working on that  weak point of mine recently as well. But if I left even a short comment on every site I check out after I wake up it would simply be over whelming. And while I tend to shy away from lists myself I do enjoy reading other people’s lists. Chuck did a list (not a top ten style) of remakes/reboots he either likes or dislikes to some degree or another. I thought about it and realized how I have some similar feelings as his about some of the films he listed and I will share my feelings. I will stick to films, the remakes, I have seen from Chuck’s list. First I will say I am not against remakes and I am in particular not against horror/sci-fi film remakes. I am skeptical of course when I hear news that Jack Hill’s Spider baby will be remade but not adamantly opposed to the idea. Redoing an old horror film or reviving a story or character (rebooting) opens the film up to modern special effects and production and new generations of actors and audiences. I am in no way saying that this is always a good thing but it is not always a bad thing either.

I LIKED:

First off let me start with a film that has garnered almost more  disdain online, almost,  than Twilight. That is the remake of Friday the 13th. It is not too hard for me to like this film since truth be told I never really liked any of the previous Jason films.  I have seen them all except the one where he battles Freddy (I welcome the upcoming reboot to the Nightmare on Elm Street  franchise after it all went to hell after the 1st film) and never saw any reason to see that since I really do not like wise-cracking and unscary Freddy Kruger as a character. My favorite of the Jason franchise was Jason X where he hacks up men, beautiful women, cyborgs and horny teenagers on a space ship. I like that film for some reason. So for me I did not expect too much at all from the remake and I was not disappointed. In fact I was surprised. It would have had to have been really, really bad to be worse than any of the original films. I felt the new Friday the 13th was the best rendition of Jason as evil incarnate so far. The tone of the film was darky and moody but still filled with clueless teenagers making out on the dreaded shores of Crystal Lake and being brutally offed one at time by a soulless Jason Vorhess. Why this film is so despised is beyond me. It is okay. Are horror viewers jsut totally jaded and burned out anymore?  Jason was never so evil. I look forward to more done in this style.


I also like the Rob Zombie Halloween films for about the same reason. Other than the original Halloween and the first sequel I never really cared too much for the Michael Myers character. I am not really a huge fan of masked hackers and slashers who have some gimmick they are identified with (Freddy’s claws, Jason’s hockey mask etc.) who usually stalk half dressed and stoned teenagers. Mind you I have seen so many of these types of films I cannot even estimate the number. Most wind up being attempts at trying to be an instantly campy or cheesy film or are parodies of the more successful masked killer type films. For that reason I cannot take the genre too seriously but enjoy many of these films as mindless entertainment. I felt Zombie tried to make a solemn and serious Halloween film and succeeded overall. I am not going to say that the Zombie films were not without problems, especially H2, but I enjoyed both of them for the most part. The murders were unsettling and Michael Myers was absolutely chilling and lethal. I like Zombie’s style of direction and his soundtracks. Not terrible films despite the venom you read online. What do people expect from horror films I begin to wonder? 

I did like the Dawn of the Dead film though it is a loose remake at best. But they did wind up in a shopping mall fending off zombies so there is that connection. IOne issue I had is that I am not a fan of fast zombies. I think the idea can work in a way. For example right after a recently living person has been bitten and dies and comes back it seems reasonable that they would be as fast, but not faster than, they were when alive a few moments earlier. But eventually rigor mortis is going to set in as well as brain damage and tissue decay and they will have to slow down. But they would not eb stronger and faster than they would have been inthere actual living life. Many of the zombies here seemed to be recently revived and so I could accept their pumped up dispositions for the most part. But the film is also simply a good film even if it is not a real remake of the original. The original DOFD is perhaps untouchable in some respects. This movie has good acting and editing and some pretty good looking zombies. I am a little burned out on zombies really. Sorry. I loved zombies at one time. I loved zombies before zombies were cool. But a zombie movie now has to be the type I like and that is, essentially,  the George A. Romero type. No surprise maybe that my favorite recent zombie flick are his Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. While not perfect films they still are better than all the other zombies films for the last five years combined and I am looking forward to Survival of the Dead. I am sure it will be hqcked to death online by all the 'experts' but I know I will enjoy it already, without even having seen a trailer.



And while we are on remakes of George Romero zombie films Chuck appears to favor, as I do, the unfairly bashed 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. This is a fine and clever remake that Romero scripted and backed. The film was made so Romero could actually make some money off his NOTLD concept since he didn’t make any to speak of off his original film. Savini’s direction is good and Tony Todd is great as the film’s hero. The character of Barbara is toughened up and there are story twists that anyone familiar with the original story will appreciate. Again I have to wonder what horror fans want if they think that this is a crappy film. Is a good horror story revived with some modern touches. It sticks true to the original film except for, as I said, some deliberate twists to keep fans of the 1st film amused.


I DID NOT LIKE:



I did not like the original My Bloody Valentine all that much. In fact I didn’t like it all.  I hated it come to think of it. I saw it on VHS God only knows how long ago and it really epitomized the whole 80’s masked killer with a gimmick thing I could never take too seriously. The original failed for me even as a camp feature whereas Prom Night (I did not see the remake) did make it as a nice piece of cheesy fun. The remake tried to darken up the film’s atmosphere and make it all a bit more serious and menacing but it just did not make it. It also became one of those goofy ‘who is the real killer’ type films and I prefer simply knowing who the psycho is, or never knowing, from the start in these sorts of films since they always try to make the killer the person you would least suspect, so automatically I begin suspecting the person I least suspect from the start and 95% of the time I am right. Unless it is one of those ‘who is the real killer films’ where it is the actually the person you would most suspect who winds up being the actual killer at the end. Whoa! Didn’t see that coming.

I did not hate the remake of The Hills Have Eyes but I did not like it enough to put it in the top 'I liked' category. I think I almost liked it. It is not a film I would want to see again really but do not recall hating the movie. One problem with this film is the connection with the name of Wes Craven, a person whose horror films I simply cannot watch. While I did like the original Nightmare on Elm Street I cannot watch anything else this guy has ever made. I still see sites praising Last House on the Left (I did not bother with the remake on this one but probably will see it eventually) which is a goofy film at best. I would review it at Then Uranium Café under the camp and cheese category but I tend to only review films at that site I like. And I hate Last House. Bad acting. Bad photography. Stupid dialog and a chanisaw scene! So The Hills Have Eyes is tainted. The well has been poisioned. I will say that I felt the remake was better than the original. But I never liked the original really so it is not much of a recommendation. I would definitely recommend the remake here.

The original When a Stranger Calls is a great and much imitated suspense film. A great cast of 70's stars with Tony Beckley as a truly creepy psychopath in the  old school Norman Bates tradition only worse, since this guy kills kids. In the remake the film is nothing but the killer stalking the scared girl in the house routine from the near start to finish. Almost the entire film takes place inside one single house one basiclaly one single 'actor' carrying the show. We never know anything abut the stalker/killer. The only real connections to the original film is that the guy (voice of Lance Henrikson) calls the girl and terrorizes her over the phone and, well, the title of the film. I actually have a completed review of this film somewhere in a draft folder. I have had it for over a year in there and for some reason never even think about it anymore. The review was negative and I saw no reason to even post a  completed negative review about this mess. The ‘girl in the house with the killer’ routine is usually fbest saved or the last ten or fifteen minutes of a suspense film, not for the entire ninety minutes. Can it work sometimes? Yes. Panic Room succeeded. But you have more than one girl (basically one character on the screen) who can’t act her way out of a paper bag running around in hysterics. Panic Room had the talents of people like Davis Fincher, Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker and everyone's favorite actress Kirsten Steward involved. Stick to the original here. It is not 100% perfect, of course,  but it is much better than this shabby remake in name only.

I saved the worst for last. While I liked the above Romero remakes the 2008 remake of Day of the Dead, perhaps my favorite zombie film,  is the worst movie on this list. It is a sickening and deceitful rip off and I can’t go on enough about how lame and ridiculous this mess is. It seems marketed as a sequel to the 2004 Dawn of the Dead and even stars Vinge Rhames, who was in the 2004 film and was great in that. Here he is totally wasted and must have showed up to get a check only.  He even looks weak and sick. The film has no connection to the original Romero classic but his name is blatantly exploited on the poster.  The original sentient zombie ‘Bub’ becomes ‘Bud’ the vegetarian soldier here, trying somehow to explain the Bub character I guess in the original film. Oh I see, maybe this is a 'prequel'. Yea yea. The zombies here are just plain idiotic. They grimace and snarl at the camera in displays of the worst kind bad acting and not only can jump through the windshields of Humvees with ease but they are able to scramble on ceiling tiles and across concrete walls like spiders. Often people are divided on films. I know from the comments left on Chuck’s sites not all people are on the same side of the fence as I am regarding, lets say, the Friday the 13th remake. And that is cool. We can all have different opinions on films and in no way is my opinion the final word on any of this. My God I liked Twilight so my credentials are shot all to hell according to 90% of the horror bloggers I read. I am no authority. Except in my opinion on this peice of crap. I cannot be disproved or challenged. this movie is dreck. I do not think I have ever read one positive review about this so called film and wonder why the director , Steve Miner, is still allowed behind a camera, even when the position has been relegated, it seems, to doing TV shows. Is there one person out there who liked this? Please come forward.

Well those are simply my opinions and there is much flexibility (except with 2008’s Day of the Dead) as to what remakes/reboots are worth your time to watch. As stated earlier I am not against remakes of horror films. It seems to be a genre where remakes work and have a long standing tradition. I stuck to Chuck’s list  for this experiment in a new form but I may explore some other remakes on my own soon. I am genuinely looking forward to the Freddy reboot. I am going in that one with an open mind.

25 February 2010

PANDORUM/2009/DENNIS QUIAD


This post here at Necrotic Cinema will mark a slight change in direction for some, though not all, of my reviews here and at The Uranium Café. Up until recently most of my reviews have been pretty much filled to the brim with spoilers and I am going to try and restrain myself from giving away too much of a film’s plot and storyline. It is not that I am adverse to spoiling a film with my reviews but I just want to try and talk about the movie in a new way. Reviews I read go either way but in terms of newer films I think I will try to hold back. Now if someone is going to complain (and I have had no complaints about spoilers) that over at my more ‘classic’ film blog The Uranium Café I spoiled some film like Them, The Blob or The Bride of Frankenstein then I do know what to say. I just assume everyone knows those stories already even if they have never seen the film. But even there I am going to try some new approaches for a while and see where it leads. 

  
So onto the film for this post called Pandorum, directed by Christian Alvart and starring Ben Foster, Dennis Quiad, Cam Gigandet and  Antje Trau. I tried again to watch the British zombie film Colin and I am sorry I just could not get into it. Some people see genius in the lack of production values and I simply did not. Anyway, I will not bash Colin here today and will get around to finishing it eventually and reviewing it. But I simply got tired of all these ‘indie’ horror films I had gotten from Demoinoid and Horror Charnel recently. I wanted something with some technical skill to it and some passable acting and a camera that was actually mounted on a tri-pod once in a while and a film where the photography consists of what appears to be a drugged spider monkey running around with a cheap video camera. I had not heard of Pandorum before and took a chance and was pleasantly surprised by the experience. In that horror movie sort of way of course.

The film has gotten some good reviews on the net but of course there are those who just feel the need to see lack of absolute perfection in any horror/sci-fi film that comes out and I wonder why some of these people even run horror/sci-fi blogs in the first place. I wonder if many horror viewers have just become too jaded and cynical. One criticism I read from a couple sites is that the look of the film and storyline are ‘derivative’ of prior great and original horror/sci-fi films like Event Horizon, Alien, Resident Evil and a few others. My response is so what? A student of classic horror will discover that even those great films were inspired or influenced in style or story by films that date back to the 50’s.  That’ does not take away from those newer films in the least and how original would a new film have to be so that there is not one malcontent’s declaration it is ‘derivative’. Totally original does not mean good or watchable either. There are reason that rock songs built around simple chord progressions like A, D, E are listenable but ones with way out diminished minor chords are never heard. Okay, I like diminished minor chords and King Crimson but I am trying to create an analogy here. I certainly felt the look of the film was influenced by Event Horizon, Outland and Alien and that school of thought in regards a space ship. That a rusted and dark and a smoky, ill-lit space ship looks cooler than a brand spanking new craft where everything is spit polished and working. 

 

The general story (with minimal spoilers I promise) involves various crews of people aboard an ark type space ship called the Elysium. Most people spend the entire trip to a new world in hyper sleep but the flight crew must be awakened in shifts to run the ship. During one such crew’s watch affairs aboard the Elysium are discovered to be completely out of sorts. Flight crew Bower (Hudson) and Payton (Quiad) are jolted out of hyper-sleep and into amnesia and mayhem. The ships controls are not working properly and the reactor seems on the verge of a melt down. There are other passengers who are awake and surviving on the gigantic space ship by any means they can. Not only is food an issue but there are bands of mutant hunters who are super humanly strong and fast who track down the humans as though they were animals. We are never sure who the mutants are or where they come from despite various conflicting theories. On top of these and other matters is the possibility one could be suffering from a form of space madness called Pandorum and not be aware of it. Bower must make his way to the reactor room and restart the reactor in order to give the ship enough power to be operational and to prevent it from becoming unstable and blowing up. Bower must crawl through claustrophobic passage ways and fend off hostile mutants while trying to decide which freed passengers he can trust and which ones he can’t while trying to regain his memory and make it to the reactor room in one piece.


The film succeeds on all required levels including acting, direction, film score, photography and set designs. Don’t pat attention to reviews that say Ben Foster and Cam Gigandet (James from Twilight) compete with other for ruining the film. They do absolutely fine as does Quaid. Are there some criticisms I might have? Of course. I am a cranky old guy anymore. The whole matter of the space madness, Pandorum for which the film is titled, is not really explored enough. I agree with a couple criticisms that this could have been more a part of the story and the mutants could have been less. The mutants are okay but the photography in those sequences is edited too quickly. The shots are bouncy, dark and rapid, like the shots of the monsters in The Descent or Feast. Or the mutant side could have been explored more. More crew members could have been woken from hyper-sleep and stalked by the mutants and brutally killed off. But I can watch any film, horror or otherwise, and say ‘I wish this and I wish that’. I wish Woody Allen had not broken with Diane Keaton at the end of Annie Hall. But what the hell do I know. I watch movies and I do not make them. That does not mean I have to accept anything I shove into my DVD player either (like Colin) simply because I cannot write or direct a film.

I have been waiting for a film to get me back in the mood of reviewing modern horror films and Pandorum did just that. I read that this film was originally to shot on video in an abandoned paper mill for a budget of about $200,000. I guess if that had happened I would not be praising it now. Luckily it got big studio backing from Impact Pictures. The ending, which I will not spoil and it is a good ending, does leave the door open to a sequel but if there is not one that would be okay. This movies stands on its own as it is now just fine. And see, hardly a spoiler at all.





PANDORUM TRAILER

18 February 2010

BUYING AND WATCHING HORROR FILMS IN CHINA PART TWO: AVATAR AT THE KUNMING IMAX


At a loss about what to write about concerning modern horror these days and so will continue with my series on buying and seeing films here in China. Be back to some horror one of these days I promise. Sort of trying the give Necrotic Cinema a little more flexibility than it was allowed in the past so bear with me while I go through a transition period here.
Bill

Saw the James Cameron film Avatar this morning at the IMAX theater here in Kunming China and thought I would share the experience with my four or five readers. The film is not really a horror film and I am not going to review it but if I were to I would give it 5 skulls. I have actually not given a 5 skull rating to any film yet here and wonder if I ever will. It is a well made film and actually does not fit in here with the usual low budget scum-cinema I comment on here. I am aware a lot of people hate the film and there is some ‘controversy’ around it. Such as the supposed racist overtones that it takes a ‘white guy’ to pull the poor natives up by their bootstraps and set them on course. Hey look it was a crippled white guy at least so chill out. Well there is some China related controversy that is a little interesting than that recurring complaint I have been hearing for a couple decades. For example here in a China (a nation of ‘navel gazers’ if ever there was one) there is chatter over the net here that the movie is actually a commentary on the current Chinese policies concerning mass evictions of peoples and the razing of communities in the name of development. The ‘property’ seizures are a fact and Kunming has had some riots recently related to people being dragged from their apartments so it can be destroyed. But that the film is a commentary on that is something I failed to see. People here are easily offended (the ancient art of ‘losing face’) and almost anything can be as a slight. When it came out here that the States had contributed more to the Haiti relief effort than China had lots of netizens, as they are called here, felt insulted that America only wanted to one-up China’s donations and support. They did not rejoice that the Haitians were getting relief only critical that another country was number one in helping with relief. Well that may seem a little off the topic but I wanted to make the point how seriously many people see the film as an insult to the way the Chinese government handles it domestic affairs.


There is another controversy I will touch on and then move on to my personal experience of seeing the film here in Kunming. The film has become the #1 grossing foreign film here in China. The government here tightly controls the foreign film market allowing a total of twenty or so foreign films a year to played in the cinemas here. These films can be edited and even horribly redubbed into Chinese to insure the ‘harmonious society’ here is not unsettled by decadent western messages and images. Recently the film Kong Zi (Confucius) was released here. To insure the film had a competitive chance at the movie theaters China did what anyone with a fair sense of competition would do: they removed Avatar from all the regular cinemas here. It is still allowed to play in IMAX theaters here. All eleven of them in the entire country. Here is an edited article from an article at Digital Journal on the removal of the film from theaters here:

China Pulls Avatar From Theaters Despite Huge Ticket Sales
By Leo Reyes.
Subscribe to author
Jan 20, 2010    

The blockbuster movie Avatar is being yanked from theaters in China despite its record-breaking sales as Chinese authorities gave way to a locally- produced movie about the life of Confucius.
China is pulling out the blockbuster film Avatar from theaters across China in the next few days despite its record breaking sales.
The futuristic sci-fic movie will be removed from theaters without 3-D technology to give way for a locally produced movie about the life of Confucius according to reports from state-controlled media.The futuristic movie can be viewed in 2-D and 3-D versions.
China limits the number of foreign films permitted to be shown in the country to 20 a year, and it also regulates the amount of time each of those films can be shown. Officials ban any foreign films deemed unfriendly to the Communist Party but it also wants to ensure that any foreign imports deemed acceptable do not dominate the market and smother local film producers.
The film made $76 million since it was shown last January 4 in 2,500 theaters across China, making it the most successful foreign movie shown in China.
Cui Weiping, a film critic and a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, said: “So many people are dying to see it, including me. ‘Avatar’ is driving people crazy right now. The government makes these decisions whenever it wants to, with no consideration for the market or the desires of the audience.”

This not an uncommon practice here really. A couple years ago all foreign cartoons, almost all from the US and Japan, were yanked from TV here. The only foreign cartoon allowed to continue was a dubbed version of Sponge Bob. Why? Because no one was watching the domesticly produced cartoons. Why? Because they are stupid and look amateurish at best. So how to get people top watch made in China cartoons on TV? Improve the quality of the productions? No. Simply ban all the cartoons from outside China and give the people no other choice. Except Sponge Bob.

The removal of the film from the cinemas of course created more of a mystique around the film and in the cities where it is playing the lines are really long. People wait for hours to get a reservation to the film at one of the IMAX theaters here. Not all people wait for hours of course since people here cut line all the time but most people stand their turns in line. The people here are curious about the film and the reaction on some forums here (called a BBS) is one that the people feel they make their own choices about how they spend their money and what films they want to see. The government here is as unmoved as the evil Marine Colonel in Avatar.


The IMAX Theater in Kunming China

Okay, so enough of that and let me share my experience. I have actually only seen two other movies in the cinema since I have been in China. Thos were Kung Fu Panda and 2012. I used to go to a couple a week or more back in Seattle. There are a couple reasons I tend to stay away from cinemaplexs here. One is DVDs are so cheap and usually a pirated version of the film appears here at about the same time the film is released in the states. I would rather lie on the sofa and watch a DVD and be able to rewind and pause a film than sit through it in a cinema anymore. Also people here can be pretty loud in a movie. Not as bad as I thought really but then I have only seen three films in over five years. People here just talk in a full and often booming voice anytime they want and that includes in the middle of a film. And they take cell phone calls during films as well and blab in a full voice. Damn, I hate that. Another reason is that foreign films here are often dubbed in Chinese and that is another post altogether. I want to discuss dubbing and subtitles here in more depth. But Twilight was released here for the first time for a limited run a couple months ago. But all the versions we could find were dubbed into Chinese. Not one friggin’ English language version. I am an English teacher here and most of my students (and younger people in general) would rather see the film in English (or its native language) than a corny dubbed version but again the choice does not seem to be theirs.


We had bought the tickets a couple weeks ago. We went and stood in a short line actually but at least one lady cut in front of us. I mumbled ‘cha dui’ (break line) and she said ‘mei you, mei you’ (did not). Well that was the least of the problems since one woman monopolized the ticket seller for fifteen minutes at least trying to decide where she wanted to sit. Shit. It was ridiculous but we got our two tickets for today the 18th at 9 AM. Let me be clear on that. Nine in the morning! That is because the film is so popular they set up times when the theater is normally closed for showings. I have never started a film at 9 AM but probably have finished a few at that time. We woke up at 7 Am and I am totally addled brained at that time. We are on a long holiday from our teaching jobs here and I tend to stay up night watching movies or monkeying with blogs. So essentially I got maybe and hour or two of sleep then we are out the door on a cold morning and catch two buses and take a short taxi ride to get to the theater. We do not have time for any sort of breakfast or coffee even. The line was short when we got there and we got in quickly. To be honest all things worked in our favor in some ways. We had a short line to buy the tickets and a short line to see it one of the few IMAX theaters in China and the crowd was well behaved. My wife sat next to some kids and she asked them to be quiet (an jing keyi ma) and they said ‘keyi’ (can do). We also got a cheaper ticket since the show was at 9 AM. Out ticket was 100 RMB each or about $15. Yea. $15 American dollars paid for in Chinese RMB. But people here are forking it over and Kong Zi is not doing much of anything. People here, as far as I can tell, as burned out with the safe historical dramas here. The young people in China want something big and well made. They love Yankee cinema, TV and music. They love the fantasy world a film like Avatar evokes and are hungry for more and more of such experiences. I can love watching a film in class with my students here because they get into it so much (and also I can sit back and not try to talk for a couple hours). They are enthusiast and make the film exciting for me and that will be a topic in this series one day; watching movies in class.  My wife said some of the older Chinese people in the theater found the experience miserable. A pair of old ladies left the theater saying over and over ‘hua qian mai zui shou’ or ‘pay so much money to feel miserable’. The whole 3-D IMAX thing may be too much for people of that generation in China but the younger generation cannot get enough of this film here and it is quite literally a phenomenon I had the opportunity to be a part of. I enjoyed the film and the experience.



07 February 2010

BUYING AND WATCHING HORROR FILMS IN CHINA PART ONE: THE DVD STORE

Thought I might try giving a personal slant to a few of the posts here at Necrotic Cinema. Not watching that many newer horror films lately though I have a couple in the draft folder like Colin, Farmhouse and Wrong Turn. Just not much into writing them up right now and I am really going to try and finish Colin because of all the hype around it, but for the most part I am not liking it too much. I had read how brilliant it was for being shot on an old video camera with a budget of about $70 and a cast of unknowns. So my far my impression is that it looks like a film (tape) that was made on an old video camera with a budget of about $70 and a cast of unknowns. But I decided to do some things 3with the blog here. I have been ‘woodshedding’ for the past year just trying to a little comfortable with my writing style here and at The Uranium Café, each site taking a slightly different approach to writing about films. I think I am okay with all that now and feel I can step back with reviews and comments and talk a little about my views on trends in horror films and things peripheral to watching horror films and then writing about them. For example; buying them and downloading them from inside the country of China. This may be a multi-part essay so as not to burn out the reader. I will later deal with movie theaters and watching movies at the cinema and the one television network here called CCTV (hahahahahaha!!!) here in China. I may even try something like the horror culture (or lack thereof) here in mainland China. But those items will be for another day. I truly hope readers find these essays interesting and there will be more reviews coming soon. I just want to do some other things like I see other people doing on their blogs and maybe break up the monotony I feel the blog had acquired, or the apathy that I have acquired from watching modern horror films.

First I will talk about where I actually buy DVDs here in China. I have lived in three cities over the last five some years here. First was Jilin City for six months, then there was Beijing for two and a half years and now Kunming in the Southwest for about two and half years as well. No doubt the best place for getting DVDs was Beijing but there quite a few good places in both Jilin City and Kunming as well. The first thing you have to realize is that all DVDs and music CDs sold here are pirated. There can be original music CDs sold at some shops but as far as DVDs go it does not happen as far as I can tell. Some palces may claim they have an original movie DVD, and therefore sell it for the same price that it would sell in the states, but this is China and I would not believe anything most shopkeepers tell you. If they can sell a pirated DVD that should sell for $1 as genuine for $10 or $20 they will sleep fine that night and consider themselves a great business person. But anyone who would want to pay $10 (about 70 RMB) for one DVD when they can get ten or more for the same price deserves to be burned. The average DVD sales for about $1 here. I will discuss some things like VCD, DVD 5 vs DVD 6 and the new ‘Bluray’ discs that are hitting the stands here and selling, again, for abut a buck on average, later. As is my habit when I talk I am drifting from the original topic whilst I type here; Where the hell do you buy DVDs in China!  In little DVD stores of course. I have some pictures somewhere I took some some shops here in Kunming but I cannot find them in my jungle of files and folders and I will get some up in a later post. The shops exist all over the place despite the tough ‘crackdowns’ on pirated goods and IPR violations. Sometimes some scapegoat shops get harassed and it makes the local newspaper but most likely they are back in business after paying a fine or finding a new local. When things were getting tough in Beijing they would take all the pirated stuff (meaning everything made outside China) and move it all to a back room and then escort you back there. The shops are crammed with thousands of DVDs that are never alphabetized but at least are grouped by categories like comedy, drama, horror etc.
It can become tedious to flip through the rows of DVDs to usually see only newer releases or big hit films over and over but there older and more obscure films if you but have patience and keep flipping. Last night the wife and I watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I have all the Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood films and got them all for about three American dollars total. And what if your ethics do not allow you to but pirated items? Probably should not live in China first of all and if you must then you will need to order everything from the net and pay near penalty level shipping charges for goods being shipped in this protectionist hell-hole. My ethics tend to be a little flexible and I have little guilt that I did not make Steven Spielberg a little richer by buying E.T. here for a buck rather than 25 or 30 dollars back in the US. But maybe your sensibilities pursue the higher categorical imperatives and so you will need to shop on Amazon or borrow films from your decadent friend’s collection. Be warned that the mail system is less than reliable and there are many complaints about items shipped from places Amazon never getting to the person who paid the big, but honest, bucks for Titanic.

The shops can vary in size and appearance and some can almost resemble a high scale little shop in Seattle. Others look like the picture I posted here at the top of the article. Cramped and small and often on a dirty little street with noodle stands on either side of the shop. The shop keepers do not speak any English 99% of the time and so it is best you learn some survival level Chinese for these situations or you will get screwed and maybe unintentionally by the shop keeper. They simply will not know what you asking for in English but they will try to be polite and helpful, usually, and just say ‘yes’ or ‘okay’ to what ever you ask. A typical situational dialog might look like this:

Customer: “Is this DVD of War of the Worlds good quality or it is a poor cam version?”
Shopkeeper: “Yes”.

You can take almost any question asking for two different items to be quantified or qualified and then put an answer of “yes” after it and you have a common conversation pattern in China.  To be fair if I were asked something like that in Chinese I would probably give the same sort of reply. You do not have to be able to have a deep, meaningful conversation about the movie with the shopkeeper but you should be clear on the price, the quality and if you can return it or not.  Once you find shops your have no problems with it is best to go back to shops and eventually the people there will remember you and your wants and learn to understand your Mandarin if it is not too good, like mine.

One more means of purchasing DVDs and music here is the street vendor. I put some images of a couple here. This is not as common a site in Kunming as it was in Beijing. The seller usually situates themselves outside the entrance/exit of the one of the big subway stops, or a bus stop or street corner, and displays his wares on a towel on the sidewalk or from a suitcase. In case of the appearance of the police or chengguan (not cops but local law enforcers who can be heavy handed) they can pack up in a jiffy and hightail it to another subway exit or street corner. I tend to not buy from these guys as you never knew if they would be n the same spot if you have to return and exchange some bad quality DVDs. Usually there is no hassle in exchanging but do not expect to get your money back from a deal. Money refunds for goods or services in China is a rare thing.
I do have some more to say on this topic but will close it for now and get back later. Maybe a couple shop anecdotes are in line and then I can move on to my experiences with cinemas here in China. If you have any questions let me know and I can address them in the next essay.