A list of 20 “outstanding” Chinese films from 2016 that have won prizes of up to 6 million yuan ($890,000) was released Thursday by the National Film Industry Development Special Fund Management Commission — which, in recognizing titles ranging from “Kung Fu Panda 3” to “The Mermaid” to box office flop “The Great Wall,” has raised a few eyebrows among moviegoers.
“This fund is a kind of reward,” film critic Chen Changye told Sixth Tone. “You could see it as setting a direction, telling the industry what types of films the state hopes to see produced, what kinds of films are being actively encouraged from an official perspective.”
To be short-listed for the prize, a film must demonstrate ideological merit, use innovative technology, or be exceptionally well-animated. It must also have been viewed by over 100,000 people in cinemas and have made at least 20 million yuan at the box office. Out of the 30 films that make the short list, 20 are selected by a committee of officials and industry representatives to receive prizes of up to 6 million yuan each.
Jiang Tao, chairman of the commission, explained the purpose for the update to the prize — which previously recognized new technologies and innovations in filmmaking more generally rather than specific films — in an interview with China Film News, a state-owned industry publication, in December of last year: “This incentive policy aims to encourage China’s many film industry professionals to create more excellent films that are unified in their ideology, artistry, and viewability, as well as to support more outstanding films that disseminate Chinese culture and promote core socialist values.”
Some netizens have cast doubt on some of the nominated films, particularly “The Great Wall,” which was panned by critics and is currently rated an abysmal 4.9 out of 10 on Douban, a popular movie-review website. In Thursday’s article by The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, one upvoted comment asks, “Does ‘The Great Wall’ count as outstanding?” Other questionable winners include Hong Kong action flick “Heartfall Arises” and star-studded animated flop “Rock Dog,” rated 4.7 and 5.8, respectively, on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
The film fund was established in 1996 to help develop China’s domestic film industry, as one of many government-backed “special funds” supporting targeted sectors such as health care, technology, and infrastructure. Twenty years later, its annual budget is 2.3 billion yuan. All Chinese movie theaters must give 5 percent of their revenue — including revenue generated from foreign films — to the film fund’s provincial offices, which in turn hand the money over to the national commission to allocate for the industry as they see fit. This month, for example, the fund gave the city of Jincheng in northern Shanxi province 2.13 million yuan to subsidize the construction of new cinemas.
“Do large films really need extra funding? This is debateable,” said Chen, the critic. “They already have very good market prospects. It’s a shame there aren’t many medium-to-low-budget films on the list, because they are the ones that are actually in need of more support and encouragement.”
—A version of this article originally appeared on Sixth Tone