Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 5 February 2010

Avatar vs Confucius

The “internal decision” of the Film and Television Bureau to order all cinemas in China to take 2D versions of Avatar off the screen and show Chow Yun Fatt’s new movie Confucius instead seems to have gone down badly. An article in the film review section of Douban.com writes that after the decision, taken on 22 January, disappointed cinemagoers declared a boycott on Confucius, whipping up such a campaign on sites like Tianya, Douban and Baidu that it even spilled over into attacks on the longstanding Confucius Bar 孔子吧, a Baidu forum for the discussion of Confucius and Confucianism. On some film review sites, viewers attacked Confucius by giving it the lowest possible score without having seen it. Comments by Confucius’ director, who denied knowledge of the directive but quipped that Avatar had nothing memorable while Confucius was worth seeing three or four times, added oil to the fire. Several commentators on the Douban post said that they were themselves refusing to see Confucius (although some of them had originally planned to do so) and that patriotism had nothing to do with patriotism.

As to whether the state should support the domestic film industry, and if so by what means, opinions differed. The author, spanisheyes123, was of the opinion that doing so was common international practice, but that rules for doing so in a fair manner already existed. It is interesting, nonetheless, that no one called the opponents of Confucius “traitors” (at least on Douban), even though such an attack on the once-again supreme symbol of “Chinese culture” could easily have triggered such action in other cases.

“Confucius the movie” is of course interesting in its own right. With its Hong Kong star, mainland director, record box office targets (this is a 贺岁片, a Spring Festival release — these tend to be the biggest hits of the year) and state protection, the film epitomizes and crowns the last two decades’ state-market cooperation in promoting “tradition” and nationalism. Yet it seems that in this instance both market and ideological targets have been missed.

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