China’s Box Office Malaise in Four Films

Ideology continues to rule the box office, but cracks in the facade are starting to show.

After “Avatar: The Way of Water” debuted to lower-than-expected box office returns in China, Yu Dong, CEO of Bona Film Group, declared that Hollywood filmmaking was losing its grip on Chinese audiences. “Recent years have seen a rise in American sci-fi films and comic adaptations, which are drifting further from the habits of Chinese filmgoers,” Yu declared at the Hainan International Film Festival in mid-December.

Hollywood’s struggles in China are by now well known. Over the past several years, a combination of increased ideological control, fewer screenings of foreign films, and Chinese audiences’ embrace of domestic blockbusters have frustrated the American film industry’s ambitious plans and led to renewed concerns about China’s “decoupling” from the global film market.

What this framing misses, however, is the deep and growing divide within China about what exactly constitutes Chinese filmmaking. At the Hainan Film Festival, Yu argued that Chinese audiences “want to see Chinese people’s stories and Chinese people’s emotions.” The rise of the “main melody” patriotic blockbuster seems to bear that out. But “Return to Dust,” a sleeper hit about rural poverty, disability, and perseverance, was heavily criticized in some corners for its overly realistic — and overly negative — portrayal of life in the countryside. Below are four films that reflected the biggest trends in China’s film industry in 2022.

“The Battle at Lake Changjin: Shuimen Bridge”

What if you remade the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but replaced the Avengers with the People’s Liberation Army? The answer would look a lot like “The Battle at Lake Changjin: Shuimen Bridge,” a sequel to last year’s Korean War epic “The Battle at Lake Changjin.”

The “Lake Changjin” series reflects the growing merger of political messaging and blockbuster filmmaking in China. The trend began in 2009, with director Huang Jianxin’s “The Founding of a Republic.” Although “Founding” lacks the post-“Wolf Warrior” machismo of “Lake Changjin,” its star-studded cast nevertheless helped it compete with Hollywood blockbusters like “Transformers 2” and laid the groundwork for today’s commercialized “main melody” films. Continue to read the full article here

– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone