And the winner is…everyone

A triumphant night at the government film awards

And the winner is…everyone

The Most Excellent Overseas Chinese Actress winner...

For the 200 million viewers that watched this year’s Huabiao telecast, it was a case of which of China’s biggest movie personalities would flaunt their patriotism the most.

“I will not take any foreign citizenship,” declared Chen Kaige, who won the Excellent Director award. “I don’t plan to become a foreign citizen and I have never done so. I will work hard to spread Chinese culture as a Chinese national. This is called not forgetting your identity.”

It might sound odd for an acceptance speech but Chen works in an industry that has recently been accused of “unpatriotic” tendencies, with some stars choosing to give up their Chinese passports to take up other nationalities (see WiC3).

This year’s Huabiao Awards – deemed the most prestigious award in China’s film industry – also happened to coincide with the upcoming celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.

So, in front of a colossal national television audience, the country’s A-listers paraded to the stage to pledge their loyalty to the country.

Established in 1957, the Huabiao Film Awards is hosted by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), the country’s top authority for radio, movie and television. So the awards are regarded as governmental film prizes.

Chow Yun-Fat, who seldom shows up at mainland film festivals, made an appearance on the red carpet; top directors Zhang Yimou, John Woo, and Wong Kar-wai attended; popular kung-fu star Jackie Chan even performed a song on stage.

In reward, SARFT doubled the number of awards from 24 to 54 this year. Winners were generally proclaimed as “excellent” (rather than as “best”) but at least this meant that recognition could be shared around. Feng Xiaogang, who shared the “excellent” director awards with Chen, quipped in his acceptance speech about a “double-yolked egg”, for instance.

For the first time too there was an award for ‘Excellent Overseas-based Chinese Actors’ – for which, read Taiwan – with Shu Qi winning the actress category for her role in hit movie, If You Are the One (directed by Feng).

But it was the award for Best Picture that most over-egged the pudding, as far as many of the country’s netizens were concerned, with the Huabiao organisers deciding to laud 10 “excellent” movies rather than an outright winner.

“Huabiao has become a joke” was one of the online comments. Another: “If there were so many great movies this year, how come not one won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars?”

But at least the unusually star-studded night confirmed that China’s movie industry is going through a growth spurt. While still small compared to the US, box office returns are being boosted by a flurry of cinema construction. Since 2002, the industry has enjoyed average annual revenue growth of 25%. Last year, cinemas sold more than Rmb4.3 billion ($630 million) in tickets, an increase of 30% from the year before. Movie ticket sales could reach Rmb35 billion in 20 years, said CFGC Chairman Han Sanping at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.

The government is eager to give a helping hand and Beijing is now encouraging its state-owned culture industry heavyweights to raise funds from IPOs.

State-owned entities China Film Group and Shanghai Film Group have been vying to become the first listed company in the industry.

Huayi Brothers, China’s leading privately-owned media company, is also exploring listing options, says the company’s deputy president Hu Ming.

Distributors have suffered in the past from capital constraints, especially when investing in potential blockbusters. So they hope that by going public they will have more funds available, and plan to use the soon-to-be launched growth enterprise board in Shenzhen, says Leung Xinxing, analyst at China Jianyin Investment Securities.

This might mean that China’s stars will have to stay onside with shareholders, bureaucrats and the fans too.

Throw in the tearful thanks to loved ones, and the acceptance speeches at award shows of the future promise to be interminably long ones.

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