Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why there is no great Sci-Fi movie from China?

Watching movies have been my hobby for decades, among different genres, sci-fi is definitely in my top 3. Certainly, it is sometimes a bit subjective to categorize a movie into a genre, as some of them are actually fitted in more than one. Cuz, even within sci-fi, there are movies that have ingredients of adventure, horror, comedy, action, etc. Anyway, basically I like them all as long as they are good.

The reason why I like sci-fi is because movies to me is an escape of reality. Sci-fi, though some of them did eventually come true in real life in certain extents, it provides me an ultimate escape of reality in terms of places, creatures, matters or all of the above that are as far away from my encounters in my waking hours as possible. I’m no expert in sci-fi, but I do believe the undisputable fact that Hollywood has led the world cinema in this genre and will continue to do so in foreseeable future. I’m not saying there is no talent available in front of or behind the camera in other places of the world to make sci-fi movies. However, those talents are certainly welcome and will most likely be absorbed into the Hollywood which has the best ‘soil’ for this genre of movie in the world.

I’ve recently read an article in a Chinese blog that compares the current state of Chinese and Hollywood movies. As it is known that, in spite of quota being imposed by the government, Chinese movie market has grown with leaps and bounds in recent years. Box office of blockbusters there are in hundreds of millions, and some of them are domestic products. As a result, there were words among some movie makers there saying that their productions are now as great as those Hollywood imports. However, those voices have been quieted down this year after the release of few movies: 2012, Avatar and Inception in China. All of them are happened to be sci-fi movies which were doing extremely good in terms of not just box office, but also as hot topics on discussion board or in the psyche of general audiences there. The content of that article also comment on why China is not capable to make those sci-fi movies anytime soon if ever.

Overall speaking, I kinda agree with what the author said. I’m not gonna translate word for word, but the point is that even if Chinese film makers can get enough capitals to pay for access of both the technology and the related experts, they still can’t make those movies because Chinese film makers just don’t have the script to make them. Many Chinese films were written by the directors themselves, of whom including those big names, don’t have sci-fi in their ‘genes’, neither do script-writers currently working there. Unlike other genre, Sci-fi movies demand a very high degree of imagination and creativity which only grow well in soil rich in ‘freedom’. Those movies also further backed up with a ‘consistent’ (i.e. credible in the movie universe, but not necessary realizable for real) set of technology framework, i.e. the physical environment, technology products within, a set of social values among ‘beings’, etc. The current Chinese movie industry just doesn’t have the components to fulfill such detailed requirements in an original way. Therefore, movie makers may be able to make great movies in other genre that are comparable to Hollywood products; sci-fi has certainly not yet been one of them. I think that not only applies to movies, but also to science fictions as well. Cuz, many sci-fi movies are actually based on fictions.

To my knowledge, there are actually some decent science fictions written in Chinese, but most of them are written by authors outside Mainland China. In fact, Hong Kong movie makers did put some of them on screen before, but the results were not good for various reasons, such as budget constraint, poor script adaption, etc. Will directors/producers from Mainland China adapt sci-fi fictions written by non-Mainland Chinese authors? That has never been done yet. Nonetheless, even if such attempt will be made, those scripts, same as any written in Mainland China, will still subject to review with scrutiny by certain government authority before being green lighted. Those reviews are done in lack of transparency or objectivity that kills creative stories. If scripts are trying to comply with various ‘political-correct’ suggestions from the authority, the story will most likely become so boring that the movie won’t worth being made.

In addition, if any Chinese sci-fi movies will be made these days, they will be subject to the mentioned problem of creating a ‘self-sustainable and credible’ surrounding to support the stories without being accused of plagiarizing Hollywood movies. I can imagine that audiences would say that what they see in the Chinese sci-fi movie A is so similar to the designs of street and home in Hollywood sci-fi movie X, the vessels and clothing in Y, and props in Z, etc. That would be a discredit to the tremendous amount of effort input by Chinese movie makers in the filming process. I would say that is probably due to the fact that the scientific R&D in China is still not as advanced as those in the States. Yes, PRC has put men in space and can shoot satellites down if needed. However, linking China to innovative advanced technology and Chinese being explorative and adventurous are still not common impressions that most people have, including Chinese ourselves. As such, it will still not an easy sale to the general audience the image of Mandarin-speaking Chinese riding a spaceship with some Chinese characters in the craft on the big screen. Particularly, if you see the props and design in the Chinese movies are similar to those in Aliens, or Star Wars, but at a sub-par standard, audience would simply be distracted and put off, regardless what the story is all about and how good the performance of actors/actress might be.

The growing pain of Chinese sci-fi movies is understandable. Considering that Japanese movie industry during its national economic heydays couldn’t make any decent sci-fi movies, given the strong tech brains in Japan and the successful Japanese sci-fi animation. Chinese will have a long long way to go and audiences are not merciful to lower standard products if they have access to the more advanced ones. Anyway, in their particular regard, I’m not hopeful in seeing any great Chinese sci-fi movies but I’m fine as long as there are good sci-fi movies to be seen in coming years.

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