A film is an element of cultural expression in the society. Consequently, culture is a direct product of a society, which makes it difficult to assume its existence. For instance, the Chinese nation traces its cultural civilization from the Yellow River basin depicting a geographical setting of vast agricultural fields with grouped settlements on the lands. The Sino culture stresses firm blood ties between families leading to the formation of a community. Communities face challenges as a group and not as an individual vendetta. The communal approach to solving different societal challenges make it easy for individuals to cope with the impending problems that would have overburdened them. Most Chinese film cultures are inclined to the Confucianism ideologies, which is the oracle of the Chinese perception of etiquette, conservatism, and the basis of societal thinking. Precisely, as the Western cultures use movies to depict their cultural practices, China is no exception in the use of films as a conduit to portray societal and cultural beliefs. Chinese film culture has changed over the years from its ancient objective of producing excellent movies that depict Chinese civilization to becoming a fast food culture.
Reasons for the Decline in Chinese Acceptability
The contemporary Chinese film producers such as Zhang Yimou continue to be significant contributors to the Chinese Cinema sector. It is influenced by their continued effort to make an impact on the Sino culture, which is through the production of numerous movies. After a hundred years of existence, the current Chinese film directors no longer prioritize the creation of supreme films. Instead, they continue to spend heavily on the depiction of pop stars as heroes. The plot centers on an individual pop star, which often subverts the intent of the film. For instance, in Zhang Yimou’s movie The Flowers of War (2011), despite Christian Bale being an ardent drunkard, he is depicted as the only oracle of hope for the oppressed. The director uses a significant amount of resources to build Christian Bale who is a familiar figure in the industry. The hype about Christian Bale in this film is a promotional strategy. The director prefers to show the heroism of Christian Bale instead of remaining objective in producing a piece that depicts the vital issues in the plot. The director intends to restraint institutional supply that the Chinese movie producers have become obsessed with partisan film production.
Several regulatory policies and bodies deprive film directors the autonomy to produce top movies. Agencies like the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) are tasked with managing the kind of information that movies depict. Therefore, the film directors are deprived of the liberty to create excellent art pieces like other directors in the western nations do. Consequently, to distinct their production from the monotonous of the Chinese historical film themes, such as Anti-Japanese war and Kungfu, which are inevitably dull to viewers, some directors such as Zhang Yimou have continuously opted to overspend on pop stars in an attempt to improve the acceptability of their productions. For example, the theme of The Flowers of War (2011) by Zhang is the Japanese war. Unfortunately, this theme has been captured in numerous Chinese films, and the only unfamiliar aspect that Zhang seeks to unveil in his work is individual heroism since the majority of the viewers already knows all other elements.
The creativity of Chinese directors has stagnated in the recent ages because of the restrictions instituted by the film management institutions. In some cases, directors assume positive public criticism and cling to status quo only to enable the accreditation of their productions by SARFT. For example, the film Youth (2017) produced by Feng Xiaogang was suspended shortly after its production despite it enjoying huge following. The Chinese government censored the film because it felt that the piece was politically inciting the youths, an action that forced Mr. Feng to relent on production. The motives by directors limit their creativity of output for they focus on ensuring that their films align with the set rules. Consequently, the decisions by directors have significantly reduced the lifespan of such cinema resembling the film culture in this East Asian nation to fast food culture.
Excessive pursuit of commercial gain has become a real threat to the future of the Chinese Film industry. Before the 21st century, most film-producer firms were State-owned companies. However, in the early 21st century, there has been improved private investment in the film sector leading to the upsurge in the quest for profit. For instance, Zhang Yimou’s film Hero (2002) was produced with the largest budget ever experienced in China’s film sector by then at the cost of US$31 million whereas investors had high expectations to regain their investments. Consequently, increased demand for benefitting from the film sector by both private and public investors has led to hypercorrection in the industry with all the parties concentrating on the desired profits. The quest for personal gains has eroded objectivity by directors, which has prevented the production of excellent films. Therefore, most movie producers opt to spend massively on pop stars as a means of promoting their works. For example, Zhang Yimou in his movie Hero (2002), he uses a combination of dazzling colors and music to improve the acceptability of the film. However, the featuring of Jet Li and the effort that Zhang applies to develop Jet Li’s character is an indication that the creation of individual characters is perceived as the epitome of an excellent film. Contrary, the ancient Chinese Film Culture was not about individual achievements. Therefore, the excessive urge for commercial gains in the contemporary culture is a major factor that hinders the production of excellent Chinese films.
The economic bubble in China has led to the stagnation of the Film sector in the Asian nation to a certain extent. According to World’s economic development, when a nation’s GDP per capita surpasses $5000, the region is likely to experience significant growth in the tourism sector. Consequently, an upsurge in tourism sector leads to increased demand for entertainment. Nonetheless, Chinese film directors have developed reservation against the typical Chinese movie themes such as Kungfu, which they believe that they could not be appealing to the foreign tourists to China. Instead, directors have developed a perception that featuring pop stars that are familiar to extensive movie lovers is likely to improve the demands for their movies beyond the Chinese borders. Furthermore, research shows that Chinese citizens who have benefited significantly from the nation’s economic boom prefer pieces for spiritual amusement and entertainment. For instance, the movie The Road Home (1999) depicts a capitalistic culture that was not the ideal practice in China. The town based businessperson Luo Yusheng returns home to attend his father’s funeral in improved economic status, a storyline that is mostly found in western films. Therefore, directors find it economically sensible to overspend and avail amusement than any other essential aspects that would result in the production of an excellent film.
Additionally, over-emphasis on entertainment by the Chinese directors has depicted China’s film culture as a fast food culture because in all circumstances, movie producers stress too much on the entertainment segment. Traditionally, the film culture was considered as an artistic work that expressed the cultural practices of society through entertainment. For example, the film The Battle of Dingjunshan (1905) portrayed the classic Chinese culture. However, entertainment has never been the only purpose of the film in any nation. Films are expected to pass vital information to the society in an educative manner despite most films being considered the oracle of entertainment by many viewers. Nonetheless, if directors only prioritize amusement elements of movies like most Chinese directors do, the lifespans of films are automatically shortened as their amusement may be confined in a given economic or political era after which it becomes irrelevant to the entire society. Therefore, the Chinese films have failed to propel moral education and promote cultural practices like the ancient movie producers managed.
An attempt to counter the influence of foreign films in the Chinese market has made Chinese film directors to exaggerate their productions. For instance, the American movies enjoy a significant following in China, a prospect that does not augur well with the Chinese film producers. In a move to thwart the influence of West movies in China, movie directors have abandoned the old Chinese film culture and adopted some elements of western culture to complement their films. At times, producers have replaced viewers’ demands with their fantasies to show the directors’ fantasy prowess rather than live to the expectation of viewers. Notably, such movies produced to counter the western films falter fast in the market, and at times, they fail to repay the cost of production. Consequently, for a film culture to prosper, producers must remain faithful to the region’s cultural practices and the values of the society.
Over-emphasis on technology is among the aspects that hinder the growth of Chinese film culture. In the early 20th century, Chinese film culture, unlike the American film industry, was known for its use of natural characters in cinema that had little technological influence. However, in the 21st century, the Chinese film industry is almost leading the use of technology in the production of movies. For instance, Zhang Yimou in his movie Hero (2002) has employed deep technological expertise that is unique to the typical Chinese film. The plot of the film wonderfully intertwines the use of movement, color, and musical play elements that cannot combine magnificently without the tremendous use of technology. Most Chinese movie directors have become much attached to the use of new technologies in their production that they have lost the Chinese identity in their creations. Chinese Cinemas have adopted the use of IMAX and 3D screens significantly, trailing the U.S. in the use of these modern pieces of equipment. Unfortunately, the excessive use of technology for a society that had been accustomed to reality shows that it is not utterly beneficial, as most Chinese population remain skeptical of such productions by associating the culture to the west. Deviating from the original perspectives of theatre productions always attracts criticism of the sector, and the Chinese film industry has not been an exception.
Comparison of Ancient and Contemporary Chinese Film Culture
Chinese film culture traces its origin to 1896 when the Lumiere brothers in Shanghai produced the first film. However, the first ever renown Chinese movie was produced in 1905, The Battle of Dingjunsha. The Peking opera majorly influenced The Battle of Dingjunshan (1905), and after its production, the Chinese film sector proliferated, producing over a hundred films yearly before 1930. Chinese films showed unique features that were implicit in the region’s cultural norms despite borrowing heavily from Peking operas. Nonetheless, the old movies copied massively from the nation’s musical theatre and they were renowned for their unique practices such as characters making long fixed poses with eyes fixed on a target outside the stage.
All through the early ages of the Chinese film, movie producers remained inclined to specific cultural practices and themes. In fact, it is only in the 21st century that the Chinese film producers have shown significant changes in the cultural orientation of the nation’s film culture. Traditional film directors created awareness on societal issues, such as social and political injustice vested in the Chinese communities. For example, the film An Orphan Rescues His Grandpa (1923) directed by Zhang Shichuan was used to teach the society the importance of having close family ties. The early movie directors also focused on misery and struggles of lower class members of the society. Concisely, film producers remained real to the societal issues. Unfortunately, the contemporary producers have stuck their production on the dull Chinese history. For instance, Zhang Yimou’s film The Flowers of War (2011) is a reflection of the past events of Sino-Japanese wars. The Film Hero (2002) is another work by Zhang that concentrates on Chinese antiquity. The modern directors shy from tackling current social issues such as political injustice in China. Instead, they opt for the familiar topics of the past, which no longer provoke any interest. The reason is that the nation’s communist party controls most film directors, which has made the film in the country to stagnate.
The early Chinese films before the golden age did not have any strict outlined script. The characters featured in the movie were expected to improvise during the performances if they remained within the set plot as seen in the movie A String of Pearls (1926) by Le Zeyuan. This prospect handed freedom to the actors to stay real and at all time, they inclined to the Chinese culture because it is all that they knew, which led to the production of excellent movies. Unfortunately, most Chinese directors abandoned the free script approach of movie production entrusting that it is only through well-spelled scripts that an excellent film can be produced. Consequently, the strategy makes Chinese movies to be based on the director’s fantasies rather than expressing the societal views of the people. Moreover, the strict adherence to scripts, which is a feature copied from the west’s film culture led to the decline in the demand of the nation’s films because of the loss of identity.
Furthermore, the ancient Chinese movies were strictly inclined to the Confucianism ideologies that were the critical societal code of living. The most important aspect that was highly regarded in the Chinese culture is a group effort. Most accomplishments were attained through the combined efforts of a family or a community, and they are the issues that the early films expressed. Unfortunately, the modern directors have mostly opted for individual heroism in their production, an aspect that was traditionally considered as a west ideology. Although society evolves, there can never be any stronger attachment than culture. The broader Chinese nation remains attached to its belief in the group efforts. For instance, Zhang Yimou is stuck to his knowledge in the use of individual heroism in his films. In his movie The Flower of War (2011), he portrays the personal courage of Christian Bale, whereas he also depicts the fearlessness of Jet Li in the star-studded film Hero (2002). Notably, the two films are impressive pieces of production. However, they do not reflect the belief in community effort by the Chinese society, an aspect that is treasured by the majority of people.
Some elements of Chinese film culture remain unchanged. For instance, the prospect of the will of Heaven is not changed. Historically, there has never been a dominating God in the Chinese culture; there exist the views of heaven and earth. In the ancient Chinese films, the producers recognized the opinions that the entire society believed that those who respect the will of heaven and universally love others would be adequately rewarded. However, those who despise the will of heaven will be punished according to their incriminating practices. Precisely, in several traditional movies, the will of heaven determines the outcome. Similarly, most of the contemporary Chinese films recognize the will of heaven in their plots. For instance, the documentary Wu Xia (2011), Liu Jinxi the protagonists fights the Villain who is terrorizing the village. As the two continues to struggle, an unexpected thunderstorm and lightning descends and hits the Villain to death. This act is used to portray that the will of heaven always prevail by punishing the wrongdoers and it is for that reason that a thunderstorm hits the Villain while Liu Jinx who fights for justice survives.
Chinese film culture has undergone various stages of development since its inception. For instance, before the 1920s, the sector was mostly characterized by civilized drama, shadow and Peking operas. The civilized acting was more of a western style, full of Japanese influence. Therefore, it would not be prudent to think of Chinese films as a sector that developed independently because it has always benefited hugely from western for its betterment.
All through, film producers strived to retain the core aspects of Chinese culture in their productions because, without the elements of culture, a movie is worthless. Features, such as social issues, ethics and family were the backbones of the traditional Chinese cinemas with most subjects of the productions being based on China’s history. However, after the end of the World Wars, most Chinese films have been based on themes such as Anti-Japan wars and they continue to embrace the ancient martial arts. Moreover, for a long time, the Chinese film culture lacked apparent movie script and actors were expected to improvise based on the plot set for the film, but their productions still flourished.
The contemporary Chinese film industry has shown flaws in its production, an aspect that is not typical of the ancient Chinese films. For instance, most of the modern Chinese movies are short-lived while others do not even reach the marketplace because the directors have deviated from what the industry is known for by viewers. Film directors such as Zhang Yimou who has contributed significantly to the Chinese cinema are not universally celebrated since they are blamed for the retardation of the Chinese film culture. The movie producers have since over-emphasized on entertainment and commercial gain prospects of film production rather than remaining true to the nation’s film culture. Furthermore, replacement of viewers’ demands by producer fantasies has diluted the vigor for China’s film productions. Moreover, strict censorship of the nation’s films by government agencies has frustrated attempts to improve China’s film sector as directors are strictly expected to adhere to several provisions. Overall, China’s film sector is facing several challenges because of the attempts by movie directors to deviate from the ancient Chinese film culture.