China



PLANNED ECONOMY ERA

The Sixth Generation is likely to be the last group of filmmakers to be so identified, for in a planned economy environment it makes less sense to categorize by generations, when all types of filmmaking arrangements occur and all producers must scramble to find capital and audiences. One scholar, Shaoyi Sun, has identified four types of filmmaking at the beginning of the twenty-first century: the internationally known directors, such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, who have few problems financing their work; the state-financed directors who make major "melody" films that are likely to reinforce party policy and present a positive image of China; the Sixth Generation, hit hard by augmented commercialization and struggling to find money; and the relatively new group of commercial filmmakers who strive solely for box-office success. Epitomizing the commercial type is Feng Xiaogang (b. 1958), whose New Year–celebration movies such as Jia fang yi fang ( The Dream Factory , 1997), Bu jian bu san ( Be There or Be Square , 1998), Mei wan mei liao ( Sorry Baby , 2000), and Da wan ( Big Shot's Funeral , 2001) since 1997 have grossed more money than any films except the imported Titanic (1997). Feng is candid about his "fast-food filmmaking," gleefully admitting to a goal of entertaining the largest audience while succeeding at the box office.

The trend toward commercialized film has left women filmmakers uncomfortable, as many have been shy about seeking funding from entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, as they have since the 1980s, they continue to direct movies about women from a female perspective, avoiding completely the stereotype of wretched, weak women dependent upon men to solve their problems. Notable in recent years have been Li Hong's Ban ni gao fei ( Tutor , 1999) and Hei bai she ying shi sha ren shi jian ( Murder in Black and White , 2001), Emily Tang's Dong ci bian wei ( Conjugation , 2002), and Ma Xiaoying's Shi jie shang zui teng wo de na ge ren zou le ( Gone Is the One Who Held Me Dearest in the World , 2002).

China's film industry has had a number of major shakeups since the mid-1990s that have substantially changed its infrastructure. By the early 1990s the studio system was already disintegrating, but it was hit even harder when state funds were cut sharply in 1996. Replacing the studio system are a number of independent production companies that are owned privately, either jointly with foreign investors or collectively. Also having an impact on the industry was the breaking up of the China Film Group's monopoly on distribution in 2003. In its place is Hua Xia, made up of Shanghai Film Group and provincial studios, China Film Group, and SARFT. A third factor that transformed Chinese cinema was the reopening in January 1995 of China's film market to Hollywood after a lapse of nearly half a century. Initially, ten "excellent" foreign films were to be imported yearly, but as the United States pressed for a wider opening up of the market, holding China's anticipated entry into the World Trade Organization as a bargaining chip, the number was increased to fifty and is expected to rise further.

Other significant changes came about soon after 1995. In production, restrictions on foreign investment have been considerably loosened, the result being that the number of international coproductions has grown at an accelerated pace. An overhaul of the exhibition infrastructure was implemented by SARFT after 2002, with goals of upgrading the sorry state of rundown theaters and remedying the numerous prohibitive restrictions exhibitors face. China pushed forward with multiplexes and digitalization, bypassing more conventional means of exhibition. Because of the enormous profits to be realized, US companies, particularly Warner Bros., became prominently involved in the Chinese exhibition circuit.

Censorship is still strictly enforced, although modifications of the censoring process (especially of script approval) have been made and a ratings system considered. Previously banned films can now be shown, and filmmakers have been encouraged to participate in international festivals. Government authorities and film personnel have tried to contend with the industry's problems by encouraging foreign producers to use China as a place to make movies, and by upgrading technologies, changing promotional strategies, and advancing the profession through the creation of more film schools and festivals.

These film reforms resuscitated an industry that was in dire straits after 1995, with the result that the number of films made has increased to more than two hundred, some attracting international attention and success at the box offices. But many problems remain, including loss of audiences to other media and other activities, the high prices of tickets, and rampant pirating. As China's film industry panders to Hollywood and commercialization, the biggest concerns are what kinds of films will be made and what about them will be Chinese.

SEE ALSO Hong Kong ; National Cinema

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John A. Lent

Xu Ying



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