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Arts & Culture ... ...
    Diminishing magic
Zhu Linyong
2005-03-29 06:27

Film buffs in China have been showered with two new film awards in the past three months. Both are projected to challenge existing ones such as the once influential and academic Golden Rooster and the more than 40-year-old Hundred Flower Film Awards.

In mid-January, the results of the first Chinese Film Directors' Guild Awards were announced in Beijing.

Speaking at the launch ceremony, held in Beijing earlier this month, director of the organizing committee and veteran Shanghai film producer Zhu Yongde said winners of the new first China Film Billboard Awards, will be revealed in early May.

Showing confidence in the popularity of the new awards, he added: "We believe that the China Film Billboard Awards will be among the most prestigious for the Chinese film industry and the general public."

However, the attitude of some moviegoers like Liu Dayan, a film fan in Beijing, might undermine Zhu's assuredness.

"So many film awards have already been set up in China," she said. "And their results are so different. As a moviegoer, it is really hard to tell which Chinese movies are actually good."

And industry observers are also sceptical there is enough room for more movie awards.

"I think it is a luxury for Chinese film makers to enjoy so many awards," commented a renowned Beijing film scholar on condition of anonymity.

For years, the Hundred Flower Awards have been the most recognized by the vast majority of China's moviegoers.

Old awards

"The Hundred Flowers Film Awards used to be really worthwhile, particularly in the 1980s. But today not many moviegoers care about them," said Beijing movie buff, Xing Zhaolin, 53, sharply criticizing the decline in standards of the awards over recent years.

Since the 1990s, with the rapid development of China's publishing and entertainment industries, Chinese people have had an increasing amount of choice in entertainment.

In the face of fierce competition from new magazines, newspapers, TV and the Internet, the circulation of Popular Cinema magazine has dropped to about 200,000 copies.

The transparency and fairness of the Hundred Flower Film Awards is being frequently questioned by moviegoers and critics alike after some unknown films and film performers won the awards.

The 1980s also saw a rise in the popularity of the Golden Rooster Film Awards.

"The Golden Rooster Awards enjoyed popularity in the 1980s for its fairness and authority. But its reputation has been tainted in recent years," said Luo Yijun, a veteran film critic who had served as a member of the judging panel for the Golden Rooster Awards for nine years since 1981.

Since 2002, script writer Wang Xingdong, director Feng Xiaogang, and many other film industry insiders have publicly criticized the Golden Rooster Awards for their lack of transparency and unconvincing results.

New awards emerging

As a result, more film awards emerged in the 1990s.

In 1992, the Changchun Film Festival's Golden Deer Awards were established. In 1993, the Shanghai International Film Festival Jinjue (Golden Trophy) Awards came into being.

The Beijing Students Film Festival Awards took shape in 1995 as the student choice of top Chinese films.

The much-hyped Chinese Film Directors' Guild Awards were the first to be publicized as "real professional film awards" and "a critical challenger" to existing awards.

"Unlike many other existing film awards in China, our award is more accurate and trustworthy in defining which are good and which are bad films. We look at the films themselves, their technical merit, their inner strength, their visual quality and their market performances, but nothing else," film director Lu Xuechang ("Making of a Steel" and "Cala, My Dog") and member of the judging panel, claimed in a press conference on February 14 in Beijing.

Now comes a new challenger - the China Film Billboard Awards.

The new awards are aimed at encouraging film makers and investors by awarding prizes to the best performers in the film market, said Zhu Yongde at a press conference early this month.

Zhu added that the panel will make their judgment in terms of marketing strategies and their execution, box office returns at home and abroad, and the popularity of the films, actors and actresses among audiences.

To ensure transparency and fairness, the judging panel will include film producers, script writers, directors, actors, distributors, cinema owners, critics and journalists, Zhu said.

Voting will be through printed ballots, the Internet, mobile phone messages, post and telephone hotlines, Zhu said.

"The whole judging and voting process will be put under strict scrutiny with help from a notary office and a trustworthy accounting firm," he added.

Doubts and hopes

The candidates for the first China Film Billboard Awards were announced two weeks ago, to a flood of questions and criticisms.

Although Chinese cinema turns 100 this year, the film market is plagued with many problems.

"It is a fact that China's film market is still troubled by a series of hard-to-crack illnesses," wrote Li Hongyu, a film critic, in a recent issue of Nanfang Weekend. The problems cited include copyright infringements, box office income evasion by local cinemas, and misleading advertising for films that trick audiences into cinemas, Li wrote.

"Under such circumstances, it is hard for us to believe there exists a fair and convincing film awards," Li added.

An article in the recent issue of the China Culture Daily questioned the legitimacy of Beijing's Huayi Brothers Advertising Co as the major co-organizer of the film awards. Three of last year's biggest grossing films, produced by the advertising company's parent company, Beijing Huayi Taihe Film Investment and Production Company, have entered the shortlist for the awards.

The three films are "Kungfu Hustle," "Kekexili: Mountain Patrol" and "A World without Thieves."

"New film awards are mushrooming, but their influence is fading for various reasons," said Li Baojiang. "Fewer and fewer audiences take part in the voting process or take the final results seriously."

Many film directors and produces have also shunned domestic film awards and sent their movies to international film festivals instead, Li said.

"Very often, international film festival awards are used as major means of promoting domestic box office sales," Li noted.

But Sun Jiansan, a veteran Chinese film historian said: "No matter how badly Chinese film awards are criticized, they have their unique value."

It is a good thing to see more film awards emerging, he pointed out. "It shows that many people still care about the future of the Chinese film industry. And many investors are still interested in taking risks in this potentially profitable market."

For those awards accused of being plagued by lack of transparency and irregularities during the judging process, he hopes organizers will make adjustments.

"Otherwise they will be forgotten forever by the industry and general public alike," Sun warned.

"It takes time for Chinese film awards to ripen. But first, they must have the chance to emerge."

Filmmakers looking outside the country to win international film awards do not worry him too much either, Sun said, because "that shows the growing confidence of Chinese filmmakers."

(China Daily 03/29/2005 page13)


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