18 February 2010


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.

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.
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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.

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