Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Red Cliff, Panda, and Chinese Films

The newest buzz out of the Chinese film world is Red Cliff, a famous battle story out of The Three Kingdoms.

The general Chinese verdict seems to be "it's entertainment", also some of the entertaining attempts are so caricaturistic, borderlining absurdity. Amid the controversy and critiques, the film sells, amassing the top box-office receipt in China. Nowadays, China takes on a very American rule - controversy sells.

But sorry Chinese, I'm not sure your complaints are relevant. This picture, from the clips I've seen, isn't filmed with you as the key audiences, rather, it has the Western viewers in mind. Outside of the fact that John Woo has never been truly outstanding besides staging scenes and working the camera angles (see Mission: Impossible II), if you view the film from an angle of someone whose knowledge of The Three Kingdoms as heard passingly at best, you won't see all the absurdity and controversy. All you see are giant battling fields - reminiscent of Rome Army nevertheless, witty humorous retorts - if somewhat modern - between generals and warlords, caring and vulnerability, and love scenes - how can a Hollywood movie be complete without one? Look, it all makes perfect sense. It's just those of you who are too versed in the story and characters that are nitpicking.

Think of the last blockbuster, dreamwork's Kung Fu Panda. The sentiments were divided along the lines of resisting: how can Hollywood produce such crap about our beloved Panda? And alternatively, proudly embracing: it's really wonderful Hollywood can nail the Chinese cultural down so precisely in the film, with a by-line of why can't we make it? Although the latter thought makes very good point about education and creativity, the two views actually share the same psyche - that of lack of confidence. The glee over Hollywood's major production featuring Chinese stories and wits underlines the fact that most Chinese are still seeking being recognized and respected by the Western culture, despite the fact that Chinese cultural that's embodied in the film is actually quite shallow, nor is it ground-shattering. The film is actually very much hollywood, both in value - the underdog hero story, and production. We are not part of the world props up some of unduly praises of the film.

Back to Red Cliff, why doesn't a Chinese made film focus more on Chinese audiences then? You can just look at the numbers. Kung Fu Panda has earned $19.29 million in China between its June 21 opening and July 6, making it a box-office smash by Chinese standards. Comparatively, it earned more than $350 million world wide. So there is little wonder Red Cliff shifts its market focus elsewhere.

China has proved it can produce quite fine art films. It is no stranger in the international film festival circuit. China can produce some entertainment "big picture" also, when it really put money into it. What's mostly lacking is the in-between and blending of the two. Both the amount and variety are far more to be desired. It is on this ground that we can come to understand the paradox of Red Cliff, both of under criticism and hugely successful commercially - because good films are too few, and far in between.

  不过同胞们的口水大致是用错了情。据我的有限观察,赤壁的主要目的观众群本不是国内的大众。吴宇森虽然长处仅限于场面的展现和镜头的控制,却 也应本无意于为网络流行语丰富词汇。但如果你想象自己是一名西方对三国一无所知的观众,也许仅有的模糊印象也来自隐约的耳闻,那么这部影片就很容易被理解 和接受。你将看到的是宏大的战争场面,甚至很容易和印象中的罗马人的战场联系起来;看到幽默急智的大将谋事,虽然他们的对话有点现代感,但无伤大雅,也和 心理预设并不冲突;他们甚至有多面的柔情和脆弱;当然还有爱情场面,没有女色的好莱坞片还叫好莱坞片么?总之,这会让网上所有自作多情的“很强大”的评论 没有用武之地。无疑,赤壁是拍给西方观众看的。
  不如回过头来看看前段时间热门的功夫熊猫。极端的观点无非两种。鄙视之抵制之者有,捧上天欣喜欣慰者也不在少数。甚至听说有引发为什么中国不 能拍出功夫熊猫的感慨。这样的感慨虽然有健康的关于创作力和教育的讨论,但终究还是建立在对影片对中国文化“准确地把握”上。其实,两种态度都反映了一种 相同的心理状态--对文化的不自信。好莱坞大片用中国熊猫和对中国文化的结合运用是让某些人如或钦点的原因。我们终于被承认了,我们成了世界的一分子。而 其实功夫熊猫是再典型不过的好莱坞片,从underdog hero story到故事的叙述方式。其中中国文化只不过皮毛,早已进入西方的知识领域。
  现在回到赤壁,为什么中国拍的大片却不是以大陆观众作为主要假定观众创作呢?答案看看功夫熊猫的数字就行了。熊猫作为大热片,在中国的前两周 收入是$19.29百万。而相比较,它的全球收入是$320百万。赤壁,已经作了好莱坞人的吴拍的电影,把主要市场盯在国外就毫不奇怪了。
  中国已经证明自己能拍出好的艺术片来。国外大大小小的电影节中国艺术片拿过的奖也不少。中国也似乎证明了所谓“娱乐大片”能拍的马马虎虎-- 只要能投入足够多的钱,国外电影市场也能分很小的一小勺。中国缺少的,是这两者之间的,和把这两者结合起来的电影。以及相称的电影市场。目前的电影市场无 论在数量上还是种类质量上都乏善可陈。那么也就不难理解主要并不为中国观众所拍,“很娱乐”,很受争议的赤壁,票房走红也就很容易理解了--我们的可看的 电影从数量和质量上都太少了。]

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