Gangnam Interregnum; plus Newly Announced China Release Dates


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

October 25, 2012

As I was writing the 3rd and final installment of my “Korea Conundrum” series, which explores the cultural and institutional impediments that prevent China from achieving global soft power influence, I came across a couple of music videos out of the PRC that explain the problem far better than I can.

While South Korean K-Pop star Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame was enjoying his brief reign as king of the pop culture meme, China was doing its part to say “Hey, we get it, we’re cool too” by producing Gangnam parody videos. Here’s a seemingly popular one that appeared on both Youtube and also on Tudou, China’s Youtube equivalent:

Click on image above to start playing video

Of all the bad Gangnam Style parodies you’ll find on the web, this is undoubtedly one of the worst. Where the original Psy video has irony, wit, and biting satire, “China Style” is utterly vacuous. Take a look at the opening lyrics:

Reprinted from Beijing Cream.com

The creators of this video take a song that satirizes the excesses and emptiness of consumer culture and turn it into… what? An anthem celebrating international broadcast companies? As Beijing Cream noted:

Not only are the creators ignorant about the original song’s meaning, they insult us by trying to explain Gangnam Style’s popularity. Where they lack in originality, they also lack in self-awareness. These are the type who, at a party, stand stone-faced through your jokes and then say, “So what you’re saying is…”

The only thing China Style has on Gangnam Style is more T&A. A lot more. Shockingly so, given China’s censorship strictures. There’s even some weird nipple tweaking at the 2:42 mark.

At least the video did get over 500 ‘likes’ on Youtube. But then, it also got almost 3,300 ‘dislikes,’ six times as many.

Surely there must be someone in China who gets it. Someone cool, detached, a keen observer of Chinese culture who has something meaningful to say. Someone like Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous artist and symbol of dissent…

…Whoops.

Alas, here’s Ai Weiwei’s contribution to the cultural conversation:

Click on image above to start video.

This is just so wrong, on so many levels. Say it ain’t so, Ai…

Guess I’ll be writing that 3rd installment after all, if for no other reason than to send China a few pointers.

In other news, release dates have now been set for the import films that will grace China’s movie screens in November. Here’s an excerpt from a missive I received this morning from my friend ‘Firedeep’

Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942 earlier today got approved by the Film Bureau. Huayi Bros set the release date as Nov. 29. And the final runtime is about 100 mins (obviously got cut down at SARFT’s request) including end credits.
Nov. 22 seems to be the right date for Life of Pi. It will be released in IMAX 3D and 3D.
2012 3D just settled Nov. 21. Just in 3D. No IMAX. As always, its theatrical time is about one month: 11/21~12/21. Coincidentally, its close date is the “world’s end” date …
Wong Kar-wai’s Grandmasters should still make its December release (though re-editing is undergoing).
November releases are pretty much all settled. While December’s mostly local titles , remain not very clear.

That’s the report for now. Back to Youtube– I mean research, for me.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com

The Korea Conundrum: Why South Korea Has Greater Global Cultural Impact Than China. Part 1


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn

by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

October 11, 2012

Questions worth pondering:

Why does China, with a population nearly 30 times larger than South Korea’s and with a government cultural budget that dwarfs that of its tiny neighbor, have so little comparative cultural influence and global soft power? Why are Korean movies, TV shows and pop music so widely distributed and enjoyed, while China’s equivalents are ignored? Where is China’s Gangnam Style?

For most of its history China was one of the world’s great cultural exporters, deploying its art, ideas, language and political values across a huge cultural sphere that included Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and other Asian territories.  You could say that China was a soft power superpower.

Nowhere was China’s influence more profound than in Korea. Although Korea maintained its own distinct language and traditions, its immediate proximity to China and its relatively small population made it a virtual catch pool for the torrent of culture that flowed forth from China over the millennia.

When the Korean peninsula was bifurcated by war in the 1950s, North Korea was drawn more tightly into China’s cultural orbit, while the South pulled away. As its economic miracle unfolded and it became an export powerhouse, South Korea drifted culturally toward America and the west. Relations between South Korea and China remained cordial but aloof, and the cultural exchange between the two countries slowed to a trickle.

And then, starting in the early 1990s something unexpected began to happen. What had been a predominantly eastward transmission of art and entertainment started to flow the other way, from South Korea to China. Suddenly Korean movies, TV dramas, and pop music became hugely popular in China and beyond. Filmmakers like Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook and Im Kwon-taek were winning major international awards, and K-pop bands like 2NE1, Super Junior and Girls Generation were sweeping Asian radio and music video channels. The trend hit China with such rapidity and force that Chinese journalists dubbed it the “Korean Wave” (한류 or hanryu in Korean).

From almost the beginning, the Korean Wave comprised an astonishing breadth and quality of culture, ranging from the dark, disturbing depths of movie dramas like Oldboy to the goofy and endearing comedy of My Sassy Girl; from enthralling TV soap operas to the ridiculously infectious beats and sexy dance moves of hyperkinetic girl bands. The New Yorker recently wrote of the K-pop phenomenon:

South Korea, a country of less than fifty million people, somehow figured out how to make pop hits for more than a billion and a half other Asians, contributing two billion dollars a year to Korea’s economy… No country is better positioned to sell recorded music in China, a potentially enormous market, should its endemic piracy be stamped out.

The hanryu created much more than just an economic boon for South Korea; it gave the country political clout, the very sort of soft power that China’s leaders have openly craved for years. As The Economist noted:

The Korean Wave’s worldwide cultural influence translated into soft power for South Korea, increasing its voice in the global political arena. Due to the wave, South Korea’s national image improved noticeably from a war-stricken, poor country to a trendy and advanced one. A survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2008 found that about 80% of respondents from China, Japan and Vietnam (three of the largest markets for hanryu) look to South Korean culture with high respect.

How did this happen? What lessons can China learn from the Koreans? We’ll explore these questions in Part 2.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com