A Chinese filmmaker is bringing some on-screen drama to reality.
On Wednesday, Bi Zhifei slammed China’s largest film review platform, Douban, for manipulating public opinion and criticized critics for labeling his directorial debut “the worst movie ever.” In an open letter written in strong rhetoric reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, the 39-year-old director defended his movie, “Pure Hearts: Into Chinese Showbiz,” and urged the China Film Bureau to crack down on “the gangster of internet reviews,” as he described the platform.
“Many young people in China who worship Douban as the idol for democracy and liberty don’t know about its close relationship with overseas capital,” Bi wrote on his Weibo microblog account. “It’s common for Douban to praise foreign films while trampling domestic ones.”
“Pure Hearts: Into Chinese Showbiz” is a 2017 drama that tells the story of a group of film students who defy the unspoken rules of the Chinese film industry as they strive to achieve their dreams. When it was released in September, the movie received a net rating of just 2 out of 10 on Douban — and 99 percent of users gave it the lowest-possible score.
Despite claims of a 12-year production timeline and 25 million-yuan ($3.9 million) budget, the film only ended up grossing 2.3 million yuan, even after a second screening round in February of this year. The previous month, the film’s production company sued Douban, demanding 1 yuan in compensation for unfair ratings.
On Thursday, a spokesperson from Douban’s public relations department told Sixth Tone the site would take legal action against what it perceived to be malicious slander. “Douban’s movie-rating system has always objectively reflected the general opinion of a film’s audience,” the spokesperson said.
In his letter, Bi invoked patriotism to attack Douban, accusing the business of being foreign-owned and its founder, Yang Bo, of holding a foreign passport. However, while the Beijing-based company did indeed receive investment from multinational venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Bertelsmann Asia Investments in 2011, the majority of its investment now comes from Chinese companies.
“We suffered a flood of rumors, slander, and rampant cyber-bullying because we dared to challenge Douban publicly,” Bi writes in his letter. Bi, who hails from a poor county in Hebei province, holds a master’s degree from the Beijing Film Academy and a doctoral degree from Peking University, one of China’s most prestigious institutions.
Bi is far from the first to criticize film-rating platforms for giving domestic films low marks. In 2016, People’s Daily said sites like Douban and Maoyan display irresponsibly low ratings and negative comments, and that this “seriously damages the Chinese cinema ecosystem.”
In 2004, China introduced a strategy to protect its film industry from big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. Every year, regulators only allow a limited number of foreign films to be shown in Chinese cinemas, and they prioritize domestic movies during high-volume periods such as the summer and national holidays. After debuting last summer, patriotism-pushing war flick “Wolf Warrior 2” became China’s highest-grossing movie of all time.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Filmmaker Bi Zhifei during an interview in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Dec. 10, 2016. Chen Hongbo/IC)