In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1986 comedy drama Peggy Sue Got Married, a woman about to get divorced is transported back in time to her final year in high school in 1960.
Fast forward to one of this year’s biggest box office successes in China. Goodbye Mr Loser is about a man whose marriage is on the verge of collapse who is then transported back to his hometown high school.
Sound familiar? It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that isn’t the view of a growing number of film critics fed up with the Chinese film industry’s predilection for plagiarism.
The similarities between the current film’s success, which made over Rmb1 billion ($157.32 million) at the box office, and the Kathleen Turner movie have prompted considerable debate, forcing Goodbye Mr Loser’s directors Yan Fei and Peng Damo to come out and deny the charges.
Writing on Sina News, the movie critic Wenbai drew direct comparison with Peggy Sue Got Married, saying the Chinese movie copied Coppola’s work practically scene for scene.
“This same story structure cannot be denied,” the article ran. “Plagiarism has always been shameful, and it’s all very sad.”
Other top box office earners, including Jianbing Man and Monster Hunt have generated similar accusations of plagiarism online.
Goodbye Mr Loser director Yan said in a statement that the main inspiration for the movie came from a popular discussion topic online which asks: “What if, when you wake up, you find yourself in a high school class and everything you experience in life is a dream?”
He added: “This is our first film and we are just students in the world of motion pictures. However, we know the bottom line and the need for a creator to have integrity. It is outrageous to label us as plagiarists. We made the story alone and I speak from my conscience that Peng Damo and I had never seen Peggy Sue Got Married before, nor even now.”
Peng echoed these remarks, saying the film was a stage play for three years before it became a big screen production.
“We have to defend our reputation, so please don’t spread false information. Those who want to accuse us of plagiarism please go and watch the two films first,” he begged.
Also begging to differ is the movie’s producer Mahua FunAge Production, which released a statement denying the claim and saying it was considering legal action.
Separately Monster Hunt has been accused of copying some of its monster designs from How to Train your Dragon. But the director Raman Hui, who has worked on a number of DreamWorks projects, said the two movies were very different. “However, if people think the two films are similar, I am very happy. After all, I am a member of the DreamWorks family and How to Train your Dragon is a film that the family is proud of,” he remarked.
Jianbing Man – which is also sometimes translated as A Hero or Not – has taken over Rmb1 billion in cinemas despite only costing around $300,000 to make. But it has also been accused of copycatting, in this case from the satirical Steve Martin movie Bowfinger.
Online commentator Fengtai Wenchuang said the main reason domestic films were being accused of copying was because the industry lacked creativity.
Last year Han Han, the filmmaker, race car driver and novelist, was accused by state media of raiding Thelma and Louise and Easy Rider for the plot of his hit debut movie, The Continent.
And in July this year, in a landmark ruling for copyright protection, a Beijing court decided that mainland screenwriter Yu Zheng had plagiarised the Taiwanese romantic novelist Chiung Yao for his TV show, The Palace: The Lost Daughter.
Then again, plenty of commentators on Sina Weibo were indifferent as to where the subject matter came from.
“Does it really matter whether the idea is copied or not? We have seen the film and we laughed and were moved. A film is to help those dealing with stress to relax, instead of worrying about copycats. When something gets really popular, a lot of others get really jealous,” wrote blogger Qing Er.
Other netizens took a slightly more nationalist tone, proclaiming that Chinese filmmakers should ignore foreign reference points and concentrate on developing their homegrown talents. “Can we Chinese people not produce something for ourselves?” pleaded one netizen.
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