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.

3 comments:

  1. This is some fascinating stuff. So it's not legal to sell originals made outside of China but it's legal to sell pirated media? I like the part about the shopkeepers saying yes to everything. That's arguably a good business practice if you're not thinking about return business! I'm adding you to my blogroll so I can be sure to check on the follow up articles.

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  2. This is one of the most fascinating articles I've read in a while. I hope you keep up this series. I would love to hear more trials of the horror fan in China!

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  3. Wednesday:

    It is legal to sell original DVDs and such made from outside China and in the big cities you can find those... if you want to pay the outrageous equivalent of 20 or 30 American dollars in China RMB, about 200 RMB or so. For many Chinese people here that would be a quarter of their monthly income for a DVD. The product is not illegal but the price is, figuratively speaking of course. Things made in China and sold in the USA are usually pretty cheap I guess, but the opposite is not true and there is a lot of friction between the US and EU and China over the imbalances. A better example might be a snack food like Doritos here, if you can even find them. A bag that sells for 2.99 back in the states sells for around 50 RMB here, or $7!! Then add a can of nacho cheese or bean dip dip (if you can find them in stock at the local rip off 'foreigner' foodstore) and your looking at about $15 bucks for some chips and dip to watch with your horror film. Or course this these sorts of prices way out of the range for local workers and they figure 'all foreigners are rich and love to part with their money' and so jack the price up as high as they can and it never goes on sale until it expires. The taxes on import here is extremely high as well. There are some other issues I will talk about later, such as how legal DVDs and movies must be first screened and approved by the CCP. this meqans lots of 'decadent' western films would never have the chance to be sold here. Theaters are allowed about 20 films a year from all of the outside world to show and again they are approved and edited and then yanked from theaters if they start being more popular than the latest mainland historical epic (like Kong Zi... or Confucius) While deal with all that crap when you can find most anything in pirated form, even anti-communist party documentaries from PBS and the BBC, if you the patience to look for it.

    TLB

    I am so happy people like this. I got some feedback at Facebook too. Since it is popular there will be some more soon I promise. Gives me a chance to write in a different voice. The voice of angst.

    Thanks

    Bill

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