With the arrival of summer, the film market will be positively sizzling once more. Although China is now recognized as being a gold mine for padding Hollywood box office figures, it is a quality that has apparently earned the Chinese market little respect. Some in the foreign media have even suggested that China is fertile ground for resuscitating “Hollywood flops” that fail to impress in the U.S. and European markets, citing the “unique tastes” of Chinese audiences.
At a time when the market for cultural products is becoming more globalized and integrated by the day, it is not uncommon for films to garner widely disparate receptions in different markets, finding sure footing in one where they faltered in the last. This is not only true for American movies, but Chinese ones as well. Investors usually take into consideration the various expected returns from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, other Asian countries, and even the United States and Europe, then rate an investment's profitability based on the aggregate amount. However, the foreign media simply concluding from this that Chinese audiences have “unique tastes” doesn't quite tell the whole story.
U.S. movies entering the Chinese market are subject to import quotas and must undergo a selection process. Therefore, the purported “tastes” of Chinese audiences are by and large determined by a small minority responsible for film selection and are not representative of the vast majority of Chinese moviegoers. Those choosing the films will, of course, take market response into account as one standard for consideration, on top of promotions, the number of showings and other artificial factors, with the result that an American movie's ticket sales within China may have little to do with real opinion on the street. Accordingly, much like how some of China's own cinematic train wrecks still somehow manage to win big at the box office even as they are widely panned, the dregs of Hollywood commanding high demand from a thirsty Chinese market comes as small surprise.
Of course, we cannot deny the influence that audiences' tastes have on the box office. Currently, Chinese moviegoers are predominantly younger viewers, this being especially apparent in the less developed cities. The process of Chinese reform and openness started from the coastal cities, and that is where people first began to acquaint themselves with and accept Western culture. Now that the residents of those cities are extremely familiar with Western culture, their views on Hollywood films, French wine, German cars and other Western products closely match those within the United States and Europe, and are at times even more progressive. In this respect, the youth living in second and third-tier cities, as well as some young people new to urban life from rural villages are lagging behind.
This is quite similar to how tastes for fashion in the more developed coastal cities now move in lockstep with the West, while the somewhat outmoded Korean and Japanese craze is still prevalent in other areas. That flagging Hollywood duds are often able to catch a second wind in China is also likely powered by the high-speed expansion of the Chinese film market and subsequent thirst for these so-called Hollywood blockbusters among certain groups. Some audiences walking into theaters place a high premium on anything that bears the mark “produced in Hollywood,” but are decidedly less exacting toward the film's actual quality.
All else aside, this phenomenon demands our attention. When films become such a huge target for consumption, it is no longer just a question of competing cultural products, but a question of cultural values. European nations, with France as the prime example, have long since protested and sought to stem the flow of the Hollywood cultural invasion, just as there have been several incidents in Japan in recent years relating to restrictions on “Hallyu” (Korean wave) products. These efforts cannot simply be dismissed as protectionism for cultural markets, for when a nation's film market is dominated by another nation's films, the values of the former may become subordinate to those of the latter, even to the point of the importing nation becoming a veritable cultural dumping ground.
When China is declared fertile ground for reviving Hollywood flops in the foreign media, there exists a barely discernible underlying current of smugness; it is a celebration of the successful spread of American culture and its values, and an air of wild excitement in saying, “Come on everybody, here's some people with lots of money and not much sense!” Whether we are dealing with Hollywood blockbusters or B-movies, apart from watching market response, we should also consider the long-term implications of film selection; simply put, we must find a way to establish cultural self-confidence and allow our own core values to take center stage. And if nothing else, we must not remain “fertile ground for Hollywood flops,” nor any longer allow others to poke fun at our “unique tastes.”