6 Bizarre Ways Chinese Audiences Alter Movies You Watch
You might have heard that China is about to surpass North America as the largest film market in the world. But what does this mean for the average North American moviegoer? How will movies change? And most importantly, will theaters cancel the timeworn tradition of serving freshly-baked apple pie prior to the Pledge of Allegiance led by an anthropomorphic box of popcorn and a live chorus of bald eagles? (If you've never seen this before, you're going to the wrong theaters.)
The truth is, we'll see Hollywood studios fight tooth and nail to collectively claw their asses atop of a giant pile of money. And the whole spectacle will be embarrassing as shit to watch.
Product Placement Is About To Get Weirder
Product placement is the worst. You're sitting there, enjoying your film, when a poorly disguised ad comes along and breaks your suspension of disbelief. It's enough to make you want to storm out of the cinema and drown your anger in PepsiCo's refreshing Tropicana Twister (with real fruit flavor). Usually, what's regarded as effective product placement is the same technique the rest of the public considers teabaggingly intolerable. But now there's a new, baffling element at work.
Speaking of intolerance, PepsiCo's Muller yogurts are low in lactose and delicious.
That's from a scene in Transformers: Age Of Extinction in which a fugitive Mark Wahlberg uses a hacked drone in dusty Texas to test out his ATM card...
...from the China Construction Bank of Beijing. In the context of the plot, that means a range-walking Texas inventor has been inexplicably outsourcing his finances in order to buy abandoned semis and extra-large American flags. Meanwhile, his underage daughter engages in a creepy sexual relationship with a Texas statutory rape law spokesman who drinks Red Bull ... imported from China?
At least those bulls have an excuse for being red.
This makes ET's peanut butter candy addiction seem feasible. We've now entered an era of longing for when the overwhelming product placement at least made some sense in the context of the story. And if you think this was a fluke, consider the fact we're getting at least four fucking more of these movies because of how much stupid money they made ... over $200 million of which was in China. In other words, get ready for the Autobots to spend the whole next movie stuck in the shape of Chinese smart cars.
In fact, the success was enough for Michael Bay to launch a new company funded through a Chinese-run toy and animation group to start developing movies based around foreign brands. Which, on the bright side, means that we probably won't have to deal with Michael Bay in this country much longer.
It's Killing Comedy Films
Save for Bill Murray and videos of screaming goats, nothing is universally hilarious. Comedy is subjective, so when you're going for mass appeal, it's easier to avoid any extreme altogether. This is why since 2010, the comedy genre has been slowly dwindling in the United States.
*slide whistle sound*
Unlike the rest of the international market, US comedies account for only 10 percent of China's box office, making it less and less practical for Hollywood to invest in what is now their least-profitable genre. It's not that Chinese audiences don't like funny movies -- they like their funny movies and romantic films. But they only go for the broadest superhero and adventure films coming out of the US.
Case in point: When Guardians Of The Galaxy (sorry, Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team) hit theaters, Chinese critics and viewers pummeled it with bad reviews, citing the poor translation of wordplay and culturally specific jokes. Because it's not merely the genre itself that's at risk here, but any injection of comedy that isn't 100 percent translatable overseas. Which means that the next time we see Peter Quill, he might be less about Footloose references and more about getting hit in the balls with a rake. After all, a fart joke is the same in every language.
This film made $300 million overseas.
Further hammering in the stake is China's deal with the US to allow 34 Hollywood-made films in per year, so long as those films are all IMAX and 3D productions. That means the biggest reward goes to the film that has the most shit flying at the screen. Just as long as that shit isn't a ghost, because China has all but exorcised their horror industry thanks to a fun little thing called censorship ...
Censorship Is Also Going To Get Weirder
Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak recently took a grand nosedive at the box office after advertisers boasted it as a horror masterpiece, as opposed to the ghost soap opera that it secretly was. Normally in these situations, a film like this would turn to China to pick up the slack. But Crimson Peak's entire plot revolves around the assertion that "ghosts are real," which directly goes against Chinese law, which abolishes any mention of the supernatural in entertainment, for fear of promoting the occult. That's seriously a rule over there.
The Chinese version of this is edited to make it look like everyone is just ignoring Swayze 'cause they're dicks.
China isn't filled with superstitious idiots, but the same way the sexually demented MPAA looms over American cinema, their country has its own forms of silly censorship dictated by seemingly outdated morality. The problem is that their dinosaur rules completely differ from America's dinosaur rules. And the combination of the two is creating a kind of super-antiquated beast that all movies must now do battle with.
I'm guessing it looks something like this.
For example, when it came time to sorrowfully shit out the final script for Adam Sandler's Pixels, Sony preemptively scrubbed a scene in which the aliens break the Great Wall, in order to ensure the film would pass the Chinese censorship boards. Any scene that implies weakness or poverty in their country is censored, and any film that promotes civil disobedience or vigilantism against the police is said to be out of the question. And yet, we allow a movie to undermine the very concept of democracy by claiming that Kevin James could ever become president.
But back to the point. All this means that, along with the American tradition of sanitizing sex, violence, and bad language, movies are now going to blur out the concepts of rebellion and religion as well. This entirely new set of rules has prompted Hollywood to skip the guessing game altogether in favor of simply making their films co-productions with China. Which is how we got this exclusively international scene in Iron Man 3 which inexplicably follows A-list Chinese actors playing the random doctors who fix Tony Stark's heart.
The Avengers replaced Black Widow and Hawkeye with them, but no one noticed.
If it pisses you off that Iron Man 3 would grind to a halt and follow two totally out-of-context characters in order to pander to Chinese audiences, then you have more in common with Chinese audiences than you realize ...
No One In China Is Thrilled About This, Either
It turns out that audiences in China thought that the extra scenes in Iron Man 3 were stupid, the same as everyone else -- if not even more baffling and insulting. It's like if Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ended with the reveal that George Clooney was dreaming the whole movie in the booth of a Boston Market.
This is why I can't stress enough that the people in China watching these films aren't drooling children clapping melodically at any mention of their country. By all accounts, Transformers: Age Of Extinction's disjointed portrayal of Hong Kong, excessive product placement, and wang-stroking of the Chinese military was met with more baffled laughter than thunderous applause. Even when a movie isn't a total mess, terrible subtitles have made films like Age Of Ultron more like a novelty than an enveloping story.
They also translated "son of a bitch" as "my old, familiar partner," which does sound more Captain America-esque.
And like in the US, these problems are making Chinese audiences goddamn sick of CGI-driven sequels and remakes. Box office sales of American-made films are dwindling due to a lack of variety compared to the more story-diverse films coming out of their own industry. However, thanks to the tone-deaf powers in charge on both sides of the pond, China continues to over-saturate with imported and co-produced IMAX/3D mega-films that are snuffing out the independent market, the same way it did in the US.
In other words, since poisoning their own falling box office sales in the US, Hollywood studios have moved on to exhaust Chinese audiences with expensive ticket sales and repetitive storylines. And the worst part is that the system is actually working great ...
The System Is Designed To Put Us Out Of Business
So what is China getting out of all this? It turns out that the answer is: everything. All the things. Starting with AMC Theaters, which was recently bought by a Chinese company called Wanda Cinema. The idea that a foreign company would own a large American chain (with the word "American" in its name) might upset some, but the bigger issue is that Wanda Cinema is now acquiring stakes in production companies like Lionsgate and MGM as well. Nationality aside, this means that the company in charge of showing movies is also invested in specific movies that are coming out. This is like if the Top Ramen Corporation bought all the grocery stores in the country and then marked up everything that wasn't a dried clump of depression.
This is the World War Z of food.
And if you're wondering if there will be preferential treatment, two things: 1) duh, and 2) keep in mind that this was exactly the problem back in the '40s, when all the movie theaters were owned by the studios making the films. It got so bad that the government eventually had to crack down on them for violating antitrust laws, causing the theaters to sell off all their chains. But the problem doesn't stop there. As more and more American films are made to please China, more and more filmmakers and artists have said "Wait, why am I still dealing with these assclowns?" and started working directly with the Chinese studios.
"This is a new start for me," Gibson said. "Hey, what's the most persecuted religious group here?"
Not only is it more efficient, but it makes good business sense, on account of American-made films only getting back 25 cents for every dollar it makes in China. By making their films co-productions with international offices, on the other hand, studios receive a way larger cut. This is why the next Kung Fu Panda is a joint production between Dreamworks in America and China, and being tailored to appease both cultures. They're going so far as to animate both the English and Chinese dubs of the characters' mouths.
But as we invest more and more into making our movies bilingual and internationally appealing, it gives China less and less of a reason to send money back our way. So while we're desperately tossing our movies at them, China's state-run studios are quietly preparing to globally compete with us ... because why the hell wouldn't they?
Shitty Films Are Becoming More Successful Than Good Ones
Let's all agree on one thing: Terminator Genisys was a dumpster fire. And not any dumpster fire; I'm talking about a reeking, obscene garbage chest set ablaze. The kind of tragic horror box you'd find outside of an animal shelter. The movie had no idea what demographic it was made for, featured a school bus chase, and inexplicably lampooned a TV show that hasn't been popular since 1994. And because of this, the movie made a flaccid $90 million in the US, on a $150 million budget.
This is how the system should work. A movie sucks, and therefore makes no money, prompting the studio to not make any more movies like that. Right? Only guess what ...
A machine uprising is way more realistic and desirable than ghosts, apparently.
This euthanized crematorium made a motherfucking extra $300 million in China and other countries, making the possibility of a sequel suddenly very, very real. Same goes for the Need For Speed film, which bombed in the US, but did so well elsewhere that three different Chinese companies are funding the sequel. This is why lukewarm films like Ant-Man are suddenly being pushed to the front of the line for sequels. America alone no longer dictates what goes on in American cinema.
Don't believe me? Consider that at 97 percent, Mad Max: Fury Road is currently the highest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes for 2015. It made its entire production budget back in the US box office, and was the #1 grossing Blu-ray release by a wide margin. There should be no question that Fury Road would get another installment. And yet George Miller has announced that he's in rocky negotiations with Warner Brothers over getting a sequel approved, citing the numerous struggles they went through to get the first film made. The fact is that, despite being the most tubular fucking thing to happen in 2015, Fury Road didn't make as much money as fucking Terminator Genisys, in large part because it didn't play in China -- presumably because the censors somehow found something to object to in it.
"Live, die, live again? Sounds like zombiism ..."
This is the harrowing disaster we live in. Even the most action-packed fiascos are on thin ice if they aren't morally sterilized and easily translatable. It would be easy to blame the Chinese for watching such crap, but think about America's relationship with kung-fu and giant monster flicks. No one wants to watch an aesthetically challenging foreign film that's dialogue-heavy or requires an iota of understanding of cultural context; we'd much rather eat each other's flaming dumpster pets instead.
David is available for birthday parties or company events to sit and yell about how movies suck now. Contact him on Twitter.
Be sure to check out 18 Baffling Tropes Hollywood Can't Stop Using and 6 Reasons Movies Suck (That Hollywood Hasn't Figured Out).
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