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    Commentator Tells Online Critics to Go Easy on Homegrown Cinema

    Low online ratings are hurting the Chinese film industry, writer says.

    An article published on the mobile platform of party mouthpiece People’s Daily on Wednesday attracted ridicule for claiming that “irresponsible” low online ratings and negative comments were damaging trust in the domestic film industry.

    The article singled out two major Chinese movie review websites, Douban and Maoyan, in its criticism, saying that certain public figures published “vicious and irresponsible statements to attract readers, fans, and web traffic, which has seriously damaged the ecosystem for Chinese cinema.” The commentary also questioned whether ratings were manipulated.

    The commentary was attributed to Zeng Kai when it appeared in the People’s Daily app on Wednesday morning but later in the day, it emerged that the article was heavily based on a similar commentary by Hao Jiemei, published in China Film News on Tuesday. The People’s Daily made no mention of the earlier article, in which the above quote referred to “all film practitioners” rather than “Chinese cinema.”

    ​Most comments responding to the People’s Daily version on microblog site Weibo countered that Zeng had misdirected his blame at reviewers and websites instead of the films themselves.

    “I paid my ticket fee to watch [these] trash movies and now I am not allowed to criticize [them],” said one typical comment.

    But others agreed that review websites were untrustworthy. “The article just laments when people give negative comments with bad intentions,” another user wrote.

    In 2004, China introduced a strategy to protect the domestic film industry from the impact of imported Hollywood blockbusters. Every year, only a limited number of foreign films can be shown in Chinese cinemas, so many premieres of overseas films will be delayed, especially during the summer. But while foreign films made up only 22 percent of films screened in 2015, they took over 38 percent of total box office income.

    Recent big-budget Chinese films like “See You Tomorrow” and “The Great Wall” have been panned by critics, even as they rake in ticket sales. “See You Tomorrow,” a romantic comedy directed by Zhang Jiajia and produced by Cannes-award-winning director Wong Kar-wai, was given only one star by nearly 50 percent of users on Douban as of Wednesday. According to Zeng, the amount of criticism was unusual and unwarranted, and he claimed an anonymous insider had tipped him off that online ratings could be manipulated by hackers. Zeng also criticized review site Maoyan for its rating system that gives more weight to reviews from experts. 

    Besides casting doubt on the integrity of online reviews, Zeng stressed that negative comments were turning audiences away from domestic films. But reactions to Zeng’s article on Zhihu, China’s answer to Quora, were swift and damning. One user, whose response received more than 1,500 likes, said it was fine for Zeng to support disappointing domestic films, but contended that voices from the People’s Daily always shut down public debate rather than participating in discussion. 

    “Before we weren’t allowed to talk about current affairs; now it seems we have to add a rule that we can’t freely comment on movies,” the user wrote.

    Correction: This article has been updated to show that the commentary published on the People’s Daily app was an edited version of an article from China Film News, not an original piece.

    (Header image: Customers stand at the ticket counter in a Wanda Cinema Line theater at the Tongzhou Wanda Plaza shopping mall in Beijing, March 14, 2015. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images VCG)