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 Times.uk

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.”

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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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TABOO IS THE NEW NORMAL

October 1, 2012

A review of “Behind the Red Door” by Richard Burger
Review by Tom Carter

Among the many misimpressions westerners tend to have of China, sex as some kind of taboo topic here seems to be the most common, if not clichéd.  Forgetting for a moment that, owing to a population of 1.3 billion, somebody must be doing it, what most of us don’t seem to know is that, at several points throughout the millennia, China has been a society of extreme sexual openness.

And now, according to author Richard Burger’s new book Behind the Red Door, the Chinese are once again on the verge of a sexual revolution.

Best known for his knives-out commentary on The Peking Duck, one of China’s longest-running expat blogs, Burger takes a similar approach to surveying the subject of sex among the Sinae, leaving no explicit ivory carving unexamined, no raunchy ancient poetry unrecited, and, ahem, no miniskirt unturned.

Opening (metaphorically and literally) with an introduction about hymen restoration surgery, Burger delves dàndàn-deep into the olden days of Daoism, those prurient practitioners of free love who encouraged multiple sex partners as the ultimate co-joining of Yin and Yang.  Promiscuity, along with prostitution, flourished during the Tang Dynasty – recognized as China’s cultural zenith – which Burger’s research surmises is no mere coincidence.

Enter the Yuan Dynasty, and its conservative customs of Confucianism, whereby sex became regarded only “for the purpose of producing heirs.”  As much as we love to hate him, Mao Zedong is credited as single-handedly wiping out all those nasty neo-Confucius doctrines, including eliminating foot binding, forbidding spousal abuse, allowing divorce, banning prostitution (except, of course, for Party parties), and encouraging women to work.  But in typical fashion, laws were taken too far; within 20 years, China under Mao became a wholly androgynous state.

We then transition from China’s red past into the pink-lit present, whence prostitution is just a karaoke bar away, yet possession of pornography is punishable by imprisonment – despite the fact that millions of single Chinese men (called bare branches) will never have wives or even girlfriends due to gross gender imbalance.

Burger laudably also tackles the sex trade from a female’s perspective, including an interview with a housewife-turned-hair-salon hostess who, ironically, finds greater success with foreigners than with her own sex-starved albeit ageist countrymen.

Western dating practices among hip, urban Chinese are duly contrasted with traditional courtship conventions, though, when it comes down to settling down, Burger points out that the Chinese are still generally resistant to the idea that marriage can be based on love.  This topic naturally segues into the all-but-acceptable custom of kept women (little third), as well as homowives, those tens of millions of straight women trapped in passionless unions with closeted gay men out of filial piety.

Behind the Red Door concludes by stressing that while the Chinese remain a sexually open society at heart, contradictive policies (enforced by dubious statistics) designed to discard human desire are written into law yet seldom enforced, simply because “sexual contentment is seen as an important pacifier to keep society stable and harmonious.”

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2 years across the 33 provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in  China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

Also by Tom Carter Eating Smoke — a question and answer with author, Chris Thrall in addition to Harlequin Romance Invades China

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Note: This guest post by Tom Carter first appeared in China in City Weekend Magazine. Reblogged with permission of Tom Carter. Behind the Red Door was published by Earnshaw Books


Harlequin Romance Invades China – a guest post by Tom Carter

April 30, 2012

Growing up in a rural, slate-roofed village deep in the countryside of southeast China, the only English books my Chinese wife had to read back then were a brittle copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and a set of Harlequin novels.

Yes, I’m talking about Harlequin, those pulpy paperbacks found on revolving wire racks at supermarket checkout aisles across North America and the UK. Their enticing cover art – usually, nay, always featuring shirtless, square-jawed men hovering millimeters away from the glistening-red lips of a damsel in distress – and formulaic flirt/fight/fall-in-love storylines mercilessly targeted housewives and secretaries longing for a 200-page escape from the dirty diapers and pot-bellied husbands of their mid-life realities.

As it turns out, it was by reading books like “Stormy Voyage” by Sally Wentworth and Roberta Leigh’s “Two-Timing Man” (bought used for 7 RMB out of a sidewalk vendor’s book cart), amongst other Harlequin classics, that my wife managed to teach herself English (which explains her tendency to throw her head back dramatically whenever we kiss).

Curious how Harlequin, the forbidden fruit of literature, could be found anywhere in a Communist republic that has the world’s most strict state-sponsored vetting process for publications, I was surprised to learn that in 1995 (about when my fiancée found her copies) Harlequin received official, red star-stamped permission to place half a million copies of twenty titles in Mandarin and a quarter-million copies of ten English versions on the shelves of Xinhua.

Harlequin’s stated goal: “to bring romance to millions of Chinese Women.”

A China.org article on the increasing popularity of romance books in the P.R.C. concurred with Harlequin’s audacious move: “Chinese women today have new demands for their Prince Charming: first, he must be powerful and distinguished…next, he must have unlimited financial resources.”

Wosai! No wonder China has become home to the world’s highest surplus of single men!

Harlequin, which puts out 1,500 new titles annually in over 100 international markets, has yet to think up a romance set in present-day China (Possible storyline: wealthy, second-generation Beijing businessman seduces sexy xiaojie with his shiny black Audie, pleather man-purse and a thick stack of redbacks; he agrees to save her Anhui village from being bulldozed by corrupt cadres if she will become his kept woman.).

Until that day, we will have to entertain ourselves with stories set in China’s olden times starring princesses and concubines.

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2 years across the 33 provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

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Note: This guest post first appeared December 8, 2010


The China-India Comparison with Lots of Facts – Part 1/5

December 31, 2011

This post was originally a result of a comment on the China Law Blog, which chastised me because, “He wanted me to provide a super-quick summary of The Economist cover story comparing India with China, but it (I) did not,” which was correct then.

Returning to this subject is because of my twelve-part debate with Troy Parfitt. Mr. Parfitt claimed, “Corruption in India isn’t germane to the debate.” In fact, most if not all of the facts and comparisons used during the debate were not relevant according to Mr. Parfitt unless those facts supported his opinions of China.

At one point, Mr. Parfitt mentioned reviews of his book in Publisher’s Weekly in defense of his book not being racisit. He claimed the South China Morning Post didn’t say that. Neither did Publishers Weekly, the Korean Herald, The Vancouver Sun… and none of the Amazon reviewers [that may change].

However, Publisher’s Weekly [PW] did say this of his book, “The result is mostly travelogue told from an outsider’s perspective, contextualized with overviews of major events in Chinese history. Parfitt argues that China will not rule the world, because as a nation it is more interested in the appearance of success than actual substance. He suggests that culturally, China has little to offer…” In addition, PW says, “his book lacks the precise facts and figures that he decries in other books promoting Chinese dominance.”

Basically, this is what the China Law Blog complained of in my post, Comparing India and China’s Economic Engines.

The facts and figures missing from Mr. Parfitt’s “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” are important as the China Law Blog says. To judge one country without comparing its government, economy and culture to other countries offers no balance for readers to make informed decisions.

Continued on January 1, 2012 in he China-India Comparison with Lots of Facts – Part 2

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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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Note: This revised and edited post first appeared on October 22, 2010 as India Falling Short


Tom Carter’s Review of Chris Thrall’s “Eating Smoke”

December 14, 2011

Don’ Do The Drug!
A review of Chris Thrall’sEating Smoke
By Tom Carter

What just might be the funniest if not first autobiography ever penned by a drug-addicted foreigner in China, Chris Thrall’s “Eating Smoke” contains more spiritual pollution than all of the titles on the Communist Party’s banned books list combined.

In a country whose history was irrevocably altered for the worst by the scourge of foreign-imported opium throughout the nineteenth century, it is no wonder that today’s China has one of the world’s least-tolerant anti-drug laws – including executions for traffickers. Basically, buying or selling drugs in China is a really stupid idea.

Enter Chris: “I’m not a stupid guy, just an average guy who does stupid things”.

Thrall, a 25 year-old Royal Marine who hastily quits the service to pursue a business venture in 1990’s-era Hong Kong, a city “where situations can only get worse,” just to find himself broke, homeless and fulfilling his own ominous prophecy.

Recalling the commando’s motto of “cheerfulness under adversity,” Thrall tries to make the best of his lowly situation by spending his time dancing in discos or hanging out in the notorious Chungking Mansions, “the world’s all-time greatest doshouse.”

The immigrant ghetto of Kowloon is not, however, the best influence on Thrall, who befriends all the wrong people, including a hebephile drug dealer from Ghana and a Filipina working girl, and soon succumbs to that favorite of Chungking pastimes–drugs.

To fund his new crystal meth habit, our detritivorous narrator forages the South China city-by-the-sea like a bottom-feeder for any job that will hire a white face.

From cubicle fixture to phone-book scams, English teacher to nightclub DJ, businessman to bouncer, Thrall manages to get fired from every gig dumb enough to hire a spun-out “chi sun gweilo” (crazy foreigner in Cantonese) who doesn’t sleep for 9 days at a time and tends to forget his own surname.

By the time Thrall reaches his last-resort of a job–as a doorman at a bar operated by the 14K, the largest Triad (Chinese crime family) in the world–he has been reduced to a hyper-paranoid shadow of his former self on the verge of drug psychosis.

“I would listen to the radio phone-ins, suspicious of the Cantonese conversation and wondering if people were calling in to report my movements,” he says during one of his many speed-soaked conspiracy theories.

What ensues is a hilarious amphetamine-paced cautionary tale of what NOT to do when addicted to drugs in Wan Chai gangland, “where the Dai Lo’s rule is law, pride is everything and life means nothing.”

Chris Thrall’s true story evokes Gregory David Roberts’ “Shantaram” and Alex Garland’s “The Beach,” both of which have been licensed to Hollywood, as “Eating Smoke” is sure to follow.

Also by Tom Carter Eating Smoke — a question and answer with author, Chris Thrall in addition to Harlequin Romance Invades China

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2 years across the 33 provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in  China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.