Making the most of home advantage

Updated: 2012-07-06 10:09

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Making the most of home advantage

Gao Yuanyuan plays a woman who is the target of an online hate campaign. Provided to China Daily

Young Chinese directors created a buzz on a forum at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June when they expressed their anxiety about competing with Hollywood productions.

A 60-year-old filmmaker appears to have an answer to this pressing problem with his latest film, Caught in the Web.

The film is a contemporary drama set in a mid-sized city. There are no kung fu scenes or special visual effects.

The story involves a secretary, her boss' wife, a journalist, and a wedding cinematographer.

The conversations are engaging and funny, and most importantly, they sound like real people.

When the film's heroine, young and pretty secretary Ye Lanqiu, refuses to give up her seat on a bus to an old man, she does not know the scene has been recorded on someone's cell phone.

Those who later publicize the incident and scorn her are unaware she has just been diagnosed as having cancer.

And the plot is bound to resonate with most filmgoers, who have some experience or understanding of online vigilantes.

Cyberposse is a familiar word to them, so is "human-flesh search engine" (renrou sousuo yinqing) which is when Web users hunt down and punish people who have elicited their wrath.

Chen's film may provide a valuable case study for young filmmakers concerned about market share for their products.

While Hollywood films eye the whole world, Chinese films can excel by knowing better local audiences.

At the moment it is not possible for domestic productions to compete with Hollywood blockbusters in terms of special effects or grand scenes, due to budgets, technology and a relatively limited imaginative palette.

Yet local audiences will find it hard to refuse stories that relate to their life and emotions sincerely. See how people love Ann Hui's A Simple Life and Feng Xiaogang's Aftershock.

However dazzling Transformers or Iron Man are, they do not tell a Chinese story.

Obstacles are obvious, though, when domestic filmmakers do not compete with Hollywood on a level playing field.

Censorship is harsher for local directors. The characters of Fast and Furious 5 break into the vaults of a Brazilian police station, while Ning Hao can only set his own heist movie 100 years ago.

While calls for equal treatment at home and abroad should not cease, filmmakers have struggled to balance censorship, their audiences' appetites and their own artistic integrity.

Chen, as a senior director known for his observations of Chinese humanity, does a good job this time.

The film is not flawless - the narrative lacks originality, some details don't seem to go anywhere, and the story's latter half is a bit out of control, but the contemporary drama about a serious issue deserves appreciation.

As a country undergoing dramatic social changes and rapid economic growth, China does not lack good stories.

Chen's efforts deserve recognition and serve as an example to younger filmmakers.

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