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China's movie sector roars into action

By Biju Dwarakanath | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-12 08:19
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Is China fast turning into a Cinema Paradiso? Going by the stupendous box office collections so far this summer, it seems the assessment is not far off the mark. Ticket sales have hit about 20.6 billion yuan ($2.83 billion), surpassing the previous record of 17.8 billion set in the summer of 2019, according to recent reports.

Everyone loves a good yarn, and if it comes with all the razzle and dazzle of a unique cinematic experience, so much the better.

I am a huge fan of films and their craft, and endlessly fascinated by their scale and the creative impetus behind movie making.

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a couple of movies at a theater nearby. As expected, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One had the usual thrills one would expect from a Tom Cruise vehicle.

I thought I could enjoy watching it in Chinese, just like the others in the audience.

However, it was in English with Chinese subtitles. Of course, I was soon left wondering whether my fellow movie buffs were missing out on the gravity-defying stunts while simultaneously reading dialogue in Mandarin.

Less than two weeks later, I was back again thinking I needed to catch a Chinese entertainer this time. Luckily, I managed to procure a ticket for the very movie I was hoping to see — Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms. It certainly did not disappoint.

The movie's canvas is huge and it thoroughly lives up to its grand ambition. I believe a sequel, too, is in the offing. It has already raked in about 2.4 billion yuan so far this summer, according to film trackers, and I must say, I was absolutely wowed by its cinematic arc. There was never a dull moment.

Of course, I could barely understand the dialogue. But that did not prevent me from being sucked into the whirlwind of emotions on display and its action sequences. Mind you, it has far fewer flying daggers and breathless rooftop fights than in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

It is more nuanced and leaves ample scope for drama. It makes you want to love and hate the characters in equal measure. It was quite a visceral experience.

I have been a Chinese movie fan for as long as I can remember. So, I am now hoping to catch a few more blockbusters before the summer frenzy runs out. Lost in the Stars, No More Bets and Chang'an are on my list, not to mention the upcoming Tony Leung-Andy Lau reunion crime thriller, The Goldfinger.

What I find incredibly interesting is that Chinese movies don't seem to be in the thrall of standard Hollywood fare anymore. They seem to have carved out a unique niche in the world movie-verse, often going head-to-head with Western productions in cinematic brilliance. Of course, there have always been good, content-driven masterpieces in Chinese cinema, but the infusion of best-in-class production values, the use of high-end animation or graphics sequences, the blending of Chinese social flair with Hollywood noir filmmaking have reshaped the industry here.

One can rightfully say that Chinese mainland cinema is making inroads into the hearts and minds of global viewers long accustomed to staple Japanese and Korean fare. The West must seriously take note of Chinese films and filmmakers and, in fact, start collaborating more with hotshot artistes from this side of the planet.

The bulging cash registers can be a strong motivating factor to begin with. If that happens, I would certainly love to watch a Tony Leung-Al Pacino-Robert De Niro gangster flick, directed by (who else?) Martin Scorsese!


Biju Dwarakanath



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