The Rise of China’s Romance Film Industry

April 23, 2013

Romance is filling screens in China, and Tom Carter showed us how the Western Romeo and Juliet concept of romance got its start in China in 1995 when Harlequin (US  Romance publisher) received permission “to bring romance to millions of Chinese women”.

That beginning grew to more than a thousand romance novels written by mainland Chinese authors last year.

The growing interest in fictional romance has also spilled seriously into mainland Chinese film.

Cfensi (a source for Chinese entertainment news) says that recently, modern day romance movies in China have taken off. “Cinema goers in China want the choice of light-hearted entertainment from the cinema, and the Chinese film industry is rapidly accommodating that niche in the market.”

Interview with Tony Leung, who often plays the leading man in movies with beautiful actresses.

In fact, one star benefiting from this demand for romance may be “Tony Leung (who) has been called the Clark Gable of Asia, and it’s not hard to see why: he’s handsome, with the enviable frame of a man who can put on anything knowing it will both flatter him and fit him.” Source: The

Then Tiger Cinema offers a list of Chinese Romance movies with links to “try now”. The titles for a few of these movies are revealing: If You Are the OneSome Like It HotAll About womenL For Love – L For LiesCall For Love, and My DNA Says I Love You.

The summary for If You Are the One says, “A story about love in comical situations depicts how difficult it often is to find the right person, but also how often we don’t realize it when love hits us at the most unexpected times.”

Cfensi says, “With China’s total box office up 44% in 2009, and 1.65 cinema screens added per day, with no signs of slowly down, this should only be one sign to look forward to of the growing diversification of China’s rapidly rising film industry.”


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Life is a Miracle – a movie review

August 4, 2011

Life is a Miracle with Zhang Ziyi (twenty-two films including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000, and Memoirs of a Geisha –2005) and Aaron Kwok (45 films) was released in China 2011 and as a DVD in the US. For those interested in seeing what life is like in a remote area of China, I recommend this movie but as a film about HIV/AIDS it fails compared to Philadelphia (1993 – Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington).

The film, adapted from a novel, tells a tragic love story between two AIDS-afflicted lovers. Kwok develops a crush on Zhang Ziyi’s character, also an AIDS patient.

Changwei Gu (the director) did not capture the horror of HIV/AIDS in this film.  However, in Philadelphia the true reality of HIV/AIDS is depicted dramatically through Tom Hanks’ character.  In Life as a Miracle, the stars are just as healthy and sexy at the end as they were early in the film.

Instead, the film seems to be a story of two thirty year olds spurned by their spouses and the healthy villagers. The two turn to each other to fulfill the need for companionship, love, youthful lust and much sex.  If you enjoyed Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs of a Geisha and her other work, then you may enjoy watching her in this film. She does not disappoint.

There was one obvious flaw in the film. The only people infected with HIV/AIDS got it while sharing the same needle giving blood.  The symptoms of the disease then come on so fast, that their spouses were never infected. This is unrealistic since HIV often hides for years or decades before it becomes AIDS.  For most, it would have been impossible to realize they carried the virus until it was too late and their spouses were infected, which is the main reason the disease has become a global epidemic.

I also found that the subtitles were too small and difficult to read. However, I managed to understand what was going on.

I easily get teary eyed in films that tug at the heart. In fact, my wife and daughter know me well enough that when a dramatic scene of this nature comes on screen, they usually glance in my direction to see if the “compassion” bug has kicked in.

That didn’t happen once while watching Life is a Miracle. In addition, when I lose interest in a movie, I often fall asleep.  That did not happen with this film.  For me, the rural Chinese setting and the supporting actors mostly carried the movie.

Discover Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, another Chinese film


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – a movie review

July 16, 2011

This film (based on a novel by Lisa See) is the story of four women and of the complexities of China — Lily and Snow Flower live in 19th century Southwest China, while Nina and Sophia live in 21st century Shanghai.

The characters of Lily and Nina are played by Bingbing Li and Sophia and Snow Flower by Gianna Jun. The director is Wayne Wang, who worked on The Joy Luck Club among other films.

Even in the 19th century, Shanghai was a world apart from Southwest China and still is.  It is safe to say that the day-to-day grind of life probably hasn’t changed much (except for foot binding and more freedom for women) in remote rural villages in Southwest China, which is off the beaten track of most foreign tourists that visit China on fast-paced packaged tours.

I read Lisa See’s novel soon after it came out and although I enjoyed the book and felt it was well written, I couldn’t understand why it stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List as long as it did.  And to be honest, I still don’t. However, if there was a formula to predict why a few books are wildly successful and many fail, no one has discovered it yet.

The original story Lisa See wrote shows a small part of China and in no way represents all of China and all things Chinese. That would be a challenge since China is a diverse land with many spoken languages and cultures and one written language and a very long history.

From what I recall, Snow Flower and Lili, the characters in 19th century China, live in Southwest China and belong to one of China’s fifty-six minorities, which have unique cultures apart from China’s Han majority, and as children these two girls are sworn to be loyal friends for life.

Considering what life was like in China for woman in the early 19th century, it is understandable why such a custom would have evolved.  However, to be clear, I will remind the reader that women were mostly treated this way everywhere in the world at that time, and many still are outside the US, Europe and China. Sex slavery and abuse of women still exists in many countries such as Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Fortunate for me, I read the reviews of this film in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle after I saw the film.

These reviews, written by Sino-blind Americans, demonstrate no clue that the real purpose of this movie may have been to highlight China’s past and present and not as another cloned US movie such as two I saw recently, which reflect what is mostly popular in America. Both of these American movies, Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon and Horrible Bosses, lacked depth without a soul, and I cannot recommend them to anyone. However, I must admit that I’m capable of enjoyed both depthless movies and films with depth such as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

I’ve been to China many times and sat in movie theaters watching movies made in China for a Chinese audience and this movie, to me, is a Chinese film with Chinese actors and actresses set in China.  After all, a Chinese film company was behind its production and the director is Chinese.

Most Chinese do not think like the average American that is often stuck on a linear path incapable of seeing the meaning between the lines. However, Chinese think metaphorically meaning if you want to understand and enjoy this film, look between the lines and learn from what is hidden in sight?

As we travel with the ancient (19th century) and modern (21st century) sworn sisters with scenes that shift from past to present, we discover that although there is more personal freedom in China today than there was almost two centuries ago, life still comes with no guarantees.  The scenes in modern Shanghai show a city in transition with old being torn down being replaced by new as if China is emerging from a cocoon. I saw this transition as a metaphor.  The scene where Nina is taking off her high heels and rubbing her feet compared to the ancient Lili (both played by the same actress) taking off her three-inch shoes and rubbing her bloodied, painful bound feet demonstrates how far China has evolved.

In fact, because this film is more Chinese than the novel written by American born and raised Lisa See, I feel it captured more of a sense of China than the novel did.

For those reasons, I cannot agree with most of the American media critics that trashed the film.  Of course, to be fair, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan would be considered a failed and flawed film to most Western critics because it is a Chinese film adapted from a Western book.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is more than just a disjointed film jumping clumsily between centuries. This film represents China and the complexity of Chinese civilization and it demonstrates how much China has changed while so much that is often out of sight of most foreigners stays the same.

If you have the patience to suspend your Western values and expectations of what movies should offer and want to discover something new, I recommend seeing this film. But be warned, since this film is Chinese (in my opinion), it pushes the melodramatic envelope beyond what most Americans are comfortable with.

Shallow thinkers that flock to see movies such as Transformers 3, Horrible Bosses, The Zookeeper, and Cars 2, etc. may want to avoid Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  However, if you are an individual that enjoys learning and expanding your horizons, go — and take a box of tissues.

Also discover Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and/or Farewell My Concubine


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.