Commentator Tells Online Critics to Go Easy on Homegrown Cinema

Low online ratings are hurting the Chinese film industry, writer says.


An article published on the mobile platform of People’s Daily on Wednesday attracted ridicule for claiming that “irresponsible” low online ratings and negative comments were damaging trust in the domestic film industry.

Writer Zeng Kai singled out two major Chinese movie review websites, Douban and Maoyan, in his criticism, in which he said that certain public figures published “vicious and irresponsible statements to attract readers, fans, and web traffic, which has seriously damaged the ecosystem for Chinese cinema.” He also questioned whether ratings were manipulated.

Most comments on microblog site Weibo countered that Zeng had misdirected his blame at reviewers and websites instead of the films themselves.

“I paid my ticket fee to watch [these] trash movies and now I am not allowed to criticize [them],” said one typical comment.

But others agreed that review websites were untrustworthy. “The article just laments when people give negative comments with bad intentions,” another user wrote.

In 2004, China introduced a strategy to protect the domestic film industry from the impact of imported Hollywood blockbusters. Every year, only a limited number of foreign films can be shown in Chinese cinemas, so many premieres of overseas films will be delayed, especially during the summer. But while foreign films made up only 22 percent of films screened in 2015, they took over 38 percent of total box office income.

Recent big-budget Chinese films like See You Tomorrow and The Great Wall have been panned by critics, even as they rake in ticket sales. See You Tomorrow, a romantic comedy directed by Zhang Jiajia and produced by Cannes-award-winning director Wong Kar-wai, was given only one star by nearly 50 percent of users on Douban as of Wednesday. The amount of criticism was unusual and unwarranted, and he claimed an anonymous insider had tipped him off that online ratings could be manipulated by hackers, according to Zeng. He also criticized review site Maoyan for its rating system that gives more weight to reviews from experts.

Besides casting doubt on the integrity of online reviews, Zeng stressed that negative comments were turning audiences away from domestic films. But reactions to Zeng’s article on Zhihu, China’s answer to Quora, were swift and damning. One user, whose response received more than 1,500 likes, said it was fine for Zeng to support disappointing domestic films, but contended that voices from the People’s Daily always shut down public debate rather than participating in discussion.

“Before we weren’t allowed to talk about current affairs; now it seems we have to add a rule that we can’t freely comment on movies,” the user wrote.

— This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.