Nothing on the box

Last week’s TV and movie schedules were somewhat less exciting than usual

Group w

It’s a thumbs-up success: cast of The Hundred Regiments Offensive

For those taking a taxi through Beijing ahead of last week’s parade to mark the 70th anniversary of victory against Japan (to use its abbreviated name), there was no Mandarin pop music to ease the delays caused by the endless roadblocks put up as part of the preparations.

Instead, the radio’s soundtrack was the stirring anthem The Story of Spring, a song praising Deng Xiaoping (though it never mentions him by name) – a tune deemed by the authorities to be suitably patriotic.

Meanwhile, for fans of The Voice and other light entertainment shows on TV, it was bad news too. Soap operas and shows like Dad, Where Are We Going? and Up Idol were replaced with documentaries such as The Main Battlefield in the East and Flying Tigers: The Unforgettable Memory, or the animated Five Cannons: Defending the Yuanzi Cliff.

From last Tuesday until Saturday, the state broadcaster CCTV and China’s eight top satellite TV channels suspended their regularly scheduled entertainment shows in favour of more nationalistic fare.

(That wasn’t all: in the weeks running up to the parade around 150 anti-Japanese and anti-Fascist films had been shown by the public broadcaster, according to CCTV.)

Some of last week’s highlights on CCTV 1, its main channel, included The Yellow River is Roaring, a film that focused on war-torn China and paid tribute to the martyrs who fought Japan.

On Hunan Satellite TV The Disguiser dramatised the period during which a Japanese-supported collaborationist government was run by Wang Jingwei in Nanjing from 1937 until shortly before his death in 1944. Over on Jiangsu TV, The Song of Graduation was a stirring tale of young people’s love and struggles during wartime. Not to be outdone, the state-run film archive announced it had digitally restored around 800 historical films about the conflict to celebrate the anniversary.

And fittingly on the movie channel CCTV 6, there were also a batch of anti-Japanese movies, including The Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Guerrillas on the Plain and Zhang Ga, the Soldier Boy, as well as overseas ‘anti-fascist’ war movies such as Schindler’s List and Enemy at the Gate.

In cinemas, the patriotic movie The Hundred Regiments Offensive was one of the big hits of the week, grossing $60 million cumulatively in its first 10 days, according to figures from the research group EntGroup. The movie tells the story of Communist General Peng Dehuai, who launched an offensive against the Japanese using 400,000 men in Hebei and Shanxi provinces, marking a break from Mao Zedong’s usual guerrilla warfare tactics.

The battle is not without controversy. Although 600 miles of railways were destroyed, some historians argue that ultimately it was a strategic failure as it galvanised the Japanese forces.

Mao wasn’t happy at having his tactics upstaged either. For this, General Peng suffered during the Cultural Revolution, when he was publicly humiliated in struggle sessions and died in prison in 1974.

Meanwhile there was controversy about the film’s box office success. It has been speculated that cinemas have been forced to redirect revenues from the popular Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Terminator: Genisys to The Hundred Regiments to make the propaganda film look good. This is based on the disparity between bookings and ticket sales – Terminator: Genisys’ bookings were much higher but ticket sales were low relative to The Hundred Regiments.

It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has occurred. Netizens also exposed some dubious ticketing tricks in 2011 designed to boost the box office of Beginning of the Great Revival, a big-budget flick about the founding of China’s Communist Party (see WiC115).

Senior executives from two leading independent Chinese studios have also publicly complained that The Hundred Regiments “stole” box office from other Chinese-made films too. “Where’s all the box office gone? Please keep those dirty hands away!” wrote Wang Zhonglei, president of Huayi Brothers on his weibo. The studio’s romantic drama Tale of Three Cities appeared to have suffered after it opened on the same day as The Hundred Regiments.

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