What's Wrong With The Chinese Sci-Fic Market?

摘要: As early as 2014, someone already commented that the Chinese film industry was destined not to be able to make some really great sci-fic films. Why is he so sure? What makes him think so? Why are sci-fic films popular in China, but Chinese film-makers not making many great sci-fic films themsevels? What’s wrong?

(Chinese Version)

Stage photo of the film The Three-Body Problem

Stage photo of the film The Three-Body Problem

Recently, heated discussion was again aroused in the Chinese sci-fic circle.

On August, 21st, Chinese female writer Hao Jingfang was awarded Hugo Award for Best Novelette at the 74th World Science Fiction Convention. Her novelette Folding Beijing was all of sudden praised and regarded as the symbol of Chinese sci-fic novels similar to The Three-Body Problem.

A few days earlier, Chinese director Lu Chuanwas awarded best Director Award for his movice Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe during the 2016 Chinese Global Sci-Fic Film Nebula Award Ceremony held in Chengdu.

All of a sudden, it seems that Chinese sci-fic have representative besides Liu Cixin. So you might wonder: how large is the Chinese sci-fic market exactly?

As a matter of fact, based on the box office performance of American sci-fic films in China, some media predicted a couple years ago that Chinese sci-fic films might also be on the eve of popularity. However, it seemed that that eve never passed even till 2016.

In 2015, Mr. Liu Cixing once told the media that the Chinese sci-fic market hadn’t been initiated yet. His judgment remains true even a year later in 2016. From the aspect of the entire industry, there isn’t much effort to adapt Chinese sci-fic works into cartoons, animation, films and TV series for these years, even after Mr. Liu Cixing was nominated for the Nebula Award. In fact, even if IPs became so popular in China for the past two years, the Chinese sci-fic market remains quite small.

In terms of sci-fic books, Statistics suggest that since 2012, the number of published sci-fic books annually written by Chinese writer or introduced from overseas remains lower than 100. This figure has already been confirmed by Mr. Liu Cixin himself. “In the US, over 1,000 novels are published every year; here in China, however, only less than 100 books are published annually,” Mr. Liu once said.

When the number of sci-fic novels is already so few, no wonder even less books will be noticed by the general public. After Liu Cixing won the Hugo Award in 2015 with his book The Three-Body Problem, the number of sci-fic books on iReader doubled. A respondent from iReader said that they saw the huge potential of the Chinese sci-fic literature, so they also exclusively introduced Hao Jingfang’s work on their platform. After Ms. Hao won the nomination, the download times of the book already rose to 300,000.

As early as 2014, Mr. Liu Cixin told the media once that the it was still hard for Chinese writer to be able to feed themselves solely in the Chinese sci-fic market. He seemed to be the only exception. At that time, Mr. Liu already earned 3.7 million yuan with his book and was ranked the 8th in the China’s Writers Rich List 2014. In general, however, sci-fic books remain in the minority even in the Chinese publishing industry. Without the help of international and national awards, sci-fic books will get even less attention.

Different from the situation in the Chinese publishing industry, sci-fic films have always drawn lots of attention in the Chinese film industry. Soon after Ms. Hao won the Hugo Award, Guo Guosong, another popular Chinese screenwriter and journalist, asked in his Weibo account: Who will get the adaptation right of the novel at last?

In the Chinese film market, sci-fic works do seem to have huge pricing power. According to the Annual Report of the Public Sentiment and Risk Control of Film and Television in China (2016), Chinese box office is increasingly leaning towards a limited number of films, and top 10 films account for one thirds of the entire box market revenue in China. Among the top 10 blockbusters, sci-fic films such as Star Wars and X-Men are often seen. When we look back, this is also true: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and The Martian passed $1.46 billion, $1.4 billion and $580 million in the Chinese box office, respectively. Indeed, sci-fic films are quite welcome in the Chinese film market.

As early as 2014, someone already commented that the Chinese film industry was destined not to be able to make some really great sci-fic films. Why is he so sure? What makes him think so? Why are sci-fic films popular in China, but Chinese film-makers not making many great sci-fic films themsevels? What’s wrong?

Well, it seems that everything boils down to one single problem: poor techniques:

1. Poor screenplay technique

Although Chinese sci-fic writers are awarded international awards for two consecutive years and the Chinese sci-fic circle drew so much attention, sci-fic novels remain in the minority in the Chinese publishing circle, whether from the aspect of publishing volume and quality.

Chinese sci-fic fans are even not satisfied with the two award-winning nnovels: The Three-Body Problem and Folding Beijing, arguing that Mr. Liu Cixing was poor in diction and Ms. Hao’s novelette was more like a realistic fiction than a science fiction.

“Back in my novel Folding Beijing, I also give a scenario of possible future. Nowadays all humans have face problems such as automation, technological development, unemployment, inequality and other issues. In my story, I give one of the solutions, a quite dark one,” Ms. Hao said in her acceptance speech.

However, some Chinese sci-fic fans seem to believe that the novelette was actually “old-fashioned” and “features elements from the last century” because it didn’t include modern concepts such as the internet, bitcoin, etc. and still adopted paper money.

Based on public record, Ms. Hao didn't treat sci-fic writing as a profession. In an interview with The Paper, Ms. Hao said that she didn’t want to see people talk to much about her novelette “Folding Beijing” and that people’s understanding of his style of writing was limited to the novelette. In fact, Ms. Hao already published a book titled “Born in 1984” this June, in which she told the story of a father and daughter, their life experience and choices.

We can only say that it’s still hard for Chinese sci-fic novels to support the Chinese sci-fic market, let alone be adapted into films. In the US, however, film makers can adapt various novels written by Asimov and Heilein as well as cartoons.

2. Poor adaptation technique

What about Chinese filmmakers’ ability to adapt sci-fic novels into films? At this point, we will have to mention Director Lu Chuan’s film Chronicle of the Ghostly Tribe.

“In the film, Director Lu Chuan tried his best to get away from the restrictions of the novel itself, managed to integrate elements such as adventure and technology into the adaptation, tried adopting various special shooting techniques commonly seen in sci-fic films and made a huge contribution to the development of Chinese sci-fic films,” Xie Fei, winner of Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear Award and member of the Chinese Film Association, remarked when presenting the Best Director Award to Mr. Lu Chuan.

Ma Boyong, a famous Chinese internet literature writer, commented on Mr. Xie’s remark as follows:

“Indeed, Lu Chuan won the Best Director Award with his adaptation Chronicle of the Ghostly Tribe based on the best-selling network novel “Ghost Blows Out the Lamp”. However, this only means two things: either Chronicle of the Ghostly Tribe misrepresents “Ghost Blows Out the Lamp”, or the award committee can give the award to nobody else.”

“Chronicle of the Ghostly Tribe is my first attempt to make a sci-fic film. Although many critics might classify it as a tomb-robbing film, it is actually a sci-fic one,” Lu Chuan responded to people’s doubts.

Indeed, the award-winning works are all completed years ago. The Wesley's Mysterious File, completed in 2002, won the Best Adapation Award, Waterdrop, completed in 2015, won the Best Short Film Award.

Indeed, award committee seems not to have much choice. There are still so few great Chinese sci-fic films right now. So, it seems that not only Chinese sci-fic writers are still poor in writing really great and imaginative stories, Chinese sci-fic filmmakers are also short of imagination. After all, to make a really great sci-novel, the director also needs to be bold and rich in imagination enough.

Mr. Liu Cixing seems to have already know clearly the role of sci-fic novel writers and filmmakers, saying that “Sci-fic novel writers won’t necessarily make any difference in the adapted film. After all, the director and producer are the most important persons in making a film.”

3. Poor post-production technique

If Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe can be classified as sci-fic film, then how about the recent blockbuster in the Chinese box office Time Raiders? However, besides starring celebrities such as Lu Han and Jing Boran, the film itself is actually poorly made.

What about special effects, then, which is quite important for sci-fic films? It is reported that it took 400 cartoonists five years to draw for the most recent Chinese 3D sci-fic film Thru The Moebius Strip. “There are so few Chinese special effect talents, so we have no choice but to invite a special effect team in Hollywood and make the special effects in Thru The Moebius Strip,”Xiao Yong, general manager of Global Digital Corporation, admitted.

The Chinese film industry still lack so much experience in sci-fic films. While audience have higher requirements for special effects due to the great special effect in typical American and European sci-fic films, Chinese directors and producers are still integrating weird elements into their sci-fic films, as to to test audience’s patience and tolerance.

How poor are Chinese filmmakers in making sci-fic films?

Well, the inconvenient truth is that they just couldn’t make one.

After The Three-Bodyy Problem won the Hugo Award in 2015, Chinese director Kongergou was said to be making a series film bearing the same name. The crew was said to invite popular Chinese actresses such as Feng Shaofeng, Zhang Jingchu, Tang Yan, Du Chun, etc. and spend over 200 million yuan to make special effects. However, it turned out that the project went sour and Chinese audience would never see those special effect at all.

Still, Chinese sci-fic readers and audience are generally quite tolerant. The Chinese sci-fic market is, indeed, large enough, as can be seen in the success of overseas sci-fic films. However, we will have to be patient enough and wait for some time to be able to see some really great Chinese sci-fic films that are excellent in the screenplay, adapation technique as well as post-production technique.

At last, I want to call on Chinese sci-fic filmmakers be bold and daring enough. As long as they dream bold enougn, the day will come when they can achieve their dreams and make some really great ones.

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Dyeeee, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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