Who Is To Blame For China's Awful Movies?

How can a film be rubbish but also be a blockbuster?
How can a film be rubbish but also be a blockbuster?
Tao Shun


BEIJING — Many Chinese films are awful. Who is to blame for this objective fact? An audience typically praises a film when they think it's good and complain when it isn't. Yet Feng Xiaogang, a famous Chinese film director, was lambasted at the recent Shanghai Films Festival for the following statement: "The reason why many Chinese films are rubbish is because many Chinese spectators are rubbish. No decent spectators, no decent films. A lot of trash films actually attract plenty of viewers."

But Feng doesn't face up to a fundamental question that rises from that assertion: How on Earth can a film be rubbish but also be a blockbuster? Whether a film sells well depends on its publicity and word of mouth but also whether it's scheduled to be released at the same time as the launch of other top competing films. Feng obviously doesn't understand this point and instead blames the audience.

Feng once said, "I make films to please myself, so I am happy." It is as if he believes that pleasing viewers makes his film bad whereas when a film pleases him, it's good. What Feng forgets is that people have to pay to see a film. A director who cares only about pleasing himself and not the audience can't be a good director.

I am not trying to defend poorly-made movies. As a matter of fact, I am also sick and tired of China's countless bad films, among which I count some of Feng's. He has made some good films but his recent work is hardless flawless. An artist's golden age for creation often lasts only a few years. But even just one or two unforgettable masterpieces would be a considerable achievement for a director. However, this doesn't mean that the public has to swallow whatever nonsense he spouts.

Sour grapes are understandable.

The box office rankings allow the public to vote with its wallet. Even though it is not the only criteria for rating a movie, ticket receipts remain an important one. It's understandable that a film director with low box office numbers may have sour grapes toward those with higher numbers. But directors should keep striving to attract as many spectators as possible.

Inside a movie theater in Hong Kong — Photo: Eric Chan

Last year, Fang Li, producer of the art film Song of the Phoenix, literally begged distributors to schedule his film at better hours and keep its theater run for additional weeks. Douban, China's most influential social networking media for movies, gave it a very good rating. In the end, this fine-art film, which is directed by Wu Tianming, who died of a heart attack just before the movie's release, succeeded in attracting a much larger audience.

In my view, there's no such thing as a rubbish audience, only rubbish filmmakers. People such as Ang Lee, the Taiwan-born international director may not always be thinking about box office numbers. The sales performance of his films varies. Still, Lee has a modest attitude toward the art of creation, the market and the audience. He does not blame, like many Chinese filmmakers, anyone but himself. He does not point fingers at the film distribution system or the public's ignorance.

"Even the smartest people can't predict precisely how a film's box office will turn out," he once said. And Lee has some advice for directors in China: "Don't pursue quick success. There are a lot of temptations in this colorful world, yet not everything is going to be within reach. Medicine is so advanced today that we get to live a long life. Why hurry?"

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!