By David Bandurski
In an interview with Southern Metropolis Daily, Han Han (韩寒), the widely popular blogger and cultural critic who doubles as a race-car driver, offers his views on China’s domestic film industry. Earlier today, the culture section ofSouthern Metropolis Daily shared portions of the interview through its official Sina Microblog account, pulling out Han Han’s choice quote on censorship.
It may be the case that the government in a country with cultural censorship no longer has to fear criticism or satire at the hands of its own creative works. But then the whole world subjects it to criticism and satire.
A portion of Han Han’s interview follows, but readers of Chinese are encouraged to read the original (and offer any pointers on our hurried translation).
Southern Metropolis Daily: Here’s a pretty cliche question, but can you talk about how you view “Lee’s Adventure” (李献计历险记)? Did you buy a ticket and see it? What kind of score do you give this film?
Han Han: This is a really tough question to answer. I bought a ticket at the theater to watch it, and before it came out I really wanted to see it. But during the first few days it was out I was racing, and there weren’t any theaters where I was. This is a film with the potential to become really great, but it falls short. I feel like the film actually could be made into three separate films. The first would be a fully animated “Lee’s Adventure,” nothing but animation; the second would be a youth film called “Lee’s Adventure”; and the third would be “Lee’s Adventure” the romantic adventure story. When all three of these are all put together, added to the narration bits that have a really distinct Beijing quality, a really sincere film with everything there falls a bit flat. But it’s still worth going to the theater and buying a ticket to see.
Southern Metropolis Daily: In the past you’ve commented on and graded a number of films, from “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” (大内密探零零狗) to “Founding of the Republic” (建国大业) and “Confucius” (孔子). You tend not to pull your punches. But lately you’ve not said very little about domestically-made films (国产电影), and we’ve not seen you scolding them much either. Is this because you’ve simply lost hope, or because you now know too many people in the industry and feel bad about being too critical? Can you talk about what films you’ve seen this year on your own dime that have really made a deep impression on you?
Han Han: I’ve not had contact with too many people in the film industry. It’s just that film criticism is something I’ve done in my spare time. I’ve not seen many good domestic films this year. “The Piano in a Factory” (钢的琴) was one, and while the part imitating Yugoslavian film and the totally unnecessary song and dance was a bit affected, the principal male character and the director held it together. “Lee’s Adventure” was another. Both films were filmed in a very lofty style, but both fortunately came back down to earth. Both films pushed hard to be moving and tragic but ultimately failed the audience.
Southern Metropolis Daily: Hong Huang (洪晃) once said that China doesn’t have independent film critics and needs more Han Hans. What did you think after hearing that? You’re not a film critic by trade, but many people (including the one sitting next to you right now) would read your reviews and weight them as they considered whether or not to go and see a film. Does knowing that make you more cautious in reviewing films?
Han Han: I do feel some caution about it. Every film, even the totally stupid ones, are the product of a lot of work and at the very least mean a whole crew has to get up early every day for three months. So sometimes I don’t have the heart [to be too critical]. I’m not saying though that work and effort are necessarily a good thing and should earn forgiveness. After all, killing and plundering, robbing and looting, are all a lot of hard work too. The efforts of others can’t become an excuse for forgiving [mediocrity].
Southern Metropolis Daily: You’ve started becoming involved with films in various ways, and sometimes you can be seen “standing up” for certain films. So are you planning to throw your strength in with filmmaking, or is this just out of friendship? And what if it’s you who are criticized once these films hit the screen?
Han Han: Basically it’s out of friendship, but these are all people I’ve picked out as people I can trust. I’m a pretty thin-skinned and soft-hearted person, but when I come across idiots my skin still thickens right up and my heart grows hard. So these are basically friends that I know won’t let me down. Fortunately, I don’t know that many. So I can preserve my independence.
Southern Metropolis Daily: You once had a director fire back at you, saying if you know so much about film why don’t you try making one yourself? You’ve talked before about how you have played with the idea of directing. So why have you not started? These past couple of years, film has been hot, and the money has flowed. On the surface, it seems to be flourishing, with box office numbers breaking hundreds of millions. Do you think there is a higher proportion of good films on the silver screen today?
Han Han: Films aren’t the work of a single person. If a film can’t make it into theaters, there’s no way I can face my investors and partners. The film market is flourishing, but it’s even harder to make decent films in China. The quality of Hong Kong films has been pulled lower as cooperation has been sought [with mainland film partners to reach both markets]. The film censorship system means current material [relating to life today] is avoided altogether. And many people who really should be in the field of television drama, or telemarketing for that matter, have entered the film industry — all of these are reasons the quality of filmmaking has gone down.
Southern Metropolis Daily: Do you think the film censorship system is the chief reason we have so many bad Chinese films?
Han Han: It’s an extremely important reason. When I was writing my book I found myself self-censoring, taking a lot of content out myself. And then the editor would take out more. This is even more the case with film. It may be the case that the government in a country with cultural censorship no longer has to fear criticism or satire at the hands of its own creative works. But then the whole world subjects it to criticism and satire.