Earlier this year China’s patriotic blockbuster “Wolf Warriors 2” shattered the country’s box-office record and became the first non-Hollywood film to break into the top 100 all-time grossing movies worldwide.
But the receipts were almost all domestic and the flag-waving action movie — along with other big hitters like last year’s co-produced “Great Wall”, starring Matt Damon — have largely failed to appeal to cinemagoers and film juries abroad.
According to jury members for the Asian Brilliant Stars awards — a cinema prize held in collaboration with the Berlin Film Festival — film fans outside China are put off by Beijing’s insistence on championing politically correct movies, as well its strict censorship system.
“Foreign prizes are much more likely to go to Japanese or Korean films, many of which are dark, about sex and violence, or the coldness of human nature,” said jury member Manfred Wong, a Hong Kong producer and screenwriter.
“But because of China’s censorship system, there simply aren’t those kinds of films here,” he explained, stating no jury wanted to award “warm movies full of positive energy”.
“Wolf Warrior 2” — which centres on a group of Chinese soldiers saving war-ravaged Africans from Western baddies — is China’s official Oscar submission for best foreign language film.
“China’s trying to promote its concept of ‘cultural self-confidence,’ but that (Wolf Warrior 2) was an instance of excess self-confidence,” Wong told AFP after a press conference.
China’s ruling Communist Party operates one of the world’s strictest cultural censorship regimes, subjecting all the movies it releases to intense vetting for subject matter deemed offensive or politically sensitive.
“Economically speaking, many Chinese industries and companies can now compete or have even surpassed foreign counterparts, but when it comes to culture, there’s still a big gap,” said Richard Shen, organiser of the awards, which are held in February and seek to popularise Asian movies in the West.
But jury member Shozo Ichiyama said he felt film distribution rather than censorship was the greatest challenge facing mainland cinema.
“I think the biggest problem for filmmakers is that there are practically no cinemas here to show their work in. It’s a real problem and cannot change quickly,” he said.
China has overtaken the US for number of cinema screens, but most of its theatres are multiplexes that show only commercial movies, squeezing out all others.
Wong, however, remained optimistic it might only take a single talented individual to help China continue to forge its reputation abroad.
“We’re just waiting for the next Jia Zhangke,” he said, referring to the Chinese director considered one of the country’s best, who won the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice film festival for “Still Life” in 2006.