China's Film Industry Lack of Cultural Depth
China's film industry, the world's third largest in terms of production, has been criticized for its over-commercialization and a lack of cultural depth amid expectations that the fast-growing sector will help enhance the nation's soft power.
Experts and industry insiders expressed their hope that the country's film industry can develop in a healthy way and impress audiences with the charms of Chinese culture.
With an annual output of over 500 films, China boasts the world's third largest film industry after India and the United States, but critics, such as Professor Huang Shixian with the Beijing Film Academy, complained that the film industry has stooped to acting as a sheer money-maker, nearly forgetting its role as a carrier of culture.
The top five domestic box office winners in the last two years, including Jiang Wen's "Let the Bullets Fly," were all culturally mediocre or even shallow products, Huang said at the 20th Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival.
Huang said that Jiang's adaption of "Let the Bullets Fly" completely severed ties with the historical background portrayed in the novel, and turned a tragedy into an adventure story about a confrontation between a bandit and a bully.
"The film industry has thrown off its respect for culture as a result of seeking maximum profits," Huang said.
While kung fu movies have earned acclaim for Chinese cinema abroad, film director Huang Kai contended that as an established cinematic element, martial arts alone do not speak for the entirety of Chinese culture.
Kung fu film stars, like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi, are almost all that comes to mind when foreign audiences think of Chinese films or Chinese culture, the director said.
"Chinese films need to enter the overseas market, which can help foreign audiences understand more about the essence of Chinese culture," he said.
The successes of Chinese commercial blockbusters have made it difficult for realistic films to survive, said Fan Zhizhong, a film researcher with Zhejiang University.
Echoing Fan, Kang Jianmin, vice chairperson of the China Film Association, said the younger generation of filmmakers should inherit their predecessors' tradition of realism.
"They should delve deeply into the real lives of commoners and understand how they live and work. Only products based on such research can impress both domestic and overseas audiences," Kang said.
Experts also agree that a lack of originality has impeded the sustainable development of the nation's film industry.
If Chinese films want to find a foothold in the world market, filmmakers and regulators must tap into domestic cultural resources, advance reforms in the industry and improve the marketing strategy, said Fan. "Only in this way can the film industry contribute to the nation's soft power."
A plenary session of the Communist Party of China Central Committee decided last month to further reform the cultural system and boost cultural development as the country faces the pressing tasks of strengthening its cultural soft power and extending the influence of Chinese culture in the world.
China produced over 520 films in 2010, up from less than 100 annually prior to 2003. Movies screened in China last year raked in 10 billion yuan (1.57 billion U.S. dollars) at the box office, or 10 times more than box office sales in 2002.