China's big-name auteurs lose ground to lesser-known ones

Monk Comes Down The Mountain, starring Jaycee Chan (left), earned only $89.6 million in the 20 days since its release.
Monk Comes Down The Mountain, starring Jaycee Chan (above), earned only $89.6 million in the 20 days since its release.PHOTO: NEW CLASSICS MEDIA

BEIJING • Chinese film is exiting a period ruled by a scattering of big-name directors, a change evident this summer as movies by the industry's top film-makers floundered.

Their ticket sales were dwarfed as films such as Monster Hunt and Monkey King: Hero Is Back, directed by lesser-known film-makers, made history in the world's second largest movie market.

Monster Hunt, a domestic live action animated film by Hong Kong-born Raman Hui, is already the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time.

Its total box-office earnings stood at 2.3 billion yuan (S$515.2 million) on Aug 23 since its July 16 debut.

It outperformed all competitors along the way.

For instance, The Crossing Part 2, directed by John Woo, took in no more than 50 million yuan in its first 10 days after opening, while Monster Hunt earned almost 1.3 billion yuan over the same period.

Chen Kaige, another iconic figure in China's film industry, also failed to impress the audience with his new film Monk Comes Down The Mountain, which pulled in 400 million yuan in the 20 days since its release.

Meanwhile, Monkey King: Hero Is Back, a 3-D animated adaptation of the classical epic Journey To The West, took in about 900 million yuan in a month following its July 10 opening.

By first-time director Tian Xiaopeng, it became the most successful domestic animation of all time.

Mr Rao Shuguang, secretary of the China Film Association, attributed the change partly to the spread of theatres from big cities to small cities and townships.

"People in those places do not grow up seeing the films of big-name directors like Chen," he said. These audiences "rarely have the chance to attend the promotional activities by renowned directors or shake hands with the famed actors or actress featured in their works", he added.

Most of the moviegoers in the past decades had been urbanites in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

However, according to a report published by China Film News, by the end of last year, the total box-office takings of small cities and townships had surpassed that of big cities for the first time.

Mr Rao also believes that big-name directors failed to win young audiences because youngsters who grew up with the Internet were not natural fans of these directors.

According to Zhang Yiwu, a film critic who is also a professor with Peking University, the new generation of directors rose because their works catered to the taste of younger audiences who are more likely to enjoy real-life stories, in particular, comedies.

"The generational shift in China's film industry has been completed," said the professor, adding that changing times mean more opportunities for new directors and movie stars.

China Film News also revealed that almost 85 per cent of film audiences are aged between 18 and 35, with the group between 18 and 25 taking up 35.7 per cent of the total.

However, the change does not necessarily mean the future for reputed directors is grim.

Mr Rao suggested that reputed directors try to blend their personal styles with real-life stories to meet the demand of younger audiences.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'China's big-name auteurs lose ground to lesser-known ones'. Print Edition | Subscribe