When news came out that Roland Emmerich’s new disaster movie 2012 would be screened in China, many didn’t bat an eye lid, simply dismissing it as a typical big-budget Hollywood disaster movie, with the same generic plot as all its predecessors. While this is true for the most part, what many people didn’t anticipate however was the immense popularity of the movie in the Chinese mainland and the controversial debate about China’s portrayal that ensued. 2012 has become a Chinese box-office hit, grossing $17.2 USD since it opened on November 13th, heralded as a completely uncensored and un-cut foreign movie, the question remains however as to whether this popularity is due to the film’s entertainment factor or people’s curiosity over the portrayal of China in an American blockbuster movie.
At first, articles proclaiming that Chinese people are pleased with China’s portrayal in Sony’s 2012 movie began flooding the internet. For once, it was not America alone who tried to save humanity, but a joint effort with a willful and cooperative Chinese nation. Rather than attempting to build an enormous ark to save humanity themselves, America entrusts China with the crucial task. “Finally, an American blockbuster than acknowledges that America alone cannot save the world,” was the response of many Chinese netizens. Many Chinese movie-goers watched with pride the scenes of Chinese troops escorting elite survivors onto the Chinese-made ark dazzled on the big screen. As Zhang Ying, an advertising executive in Beijing said, “I felt really proud to be Chinese as I was watching our (military) officers rescuing civilians in need.” It seemed like a breakthrough that the Hollywood blockbuster conglomerate was finally willing and ready to portray the future world leader in a positive light.
However, when the excitement died down and people actually began digesting the film’s images and subtexts a new internet trend began; Chinese netizens realised that far from praising China, the film actually insults it. An online debate over whether the film insults or praises China has been flooding the internet ever since. As Kai Pan so eloquently put it, “Anyone, Chinese or otherwise, presenting this movie as “pro-China” is egotistically reading way too much into an otherwise dumb but dazzling movie.” Was the ticket attendant in a central Beijing cinema wrong then when she asserted that the reason it has been sold out every night is because “they all want to watch China save the world”?
It is difficult to explain the countless scenes that allegedly insult China without giving away too much of the plot. However, in general, Chinese netizens are complaining that it is America that urges all survivors to be allowed onto the ark, while China only accepts the rich elites with special “green cards.” Meanwhile, the thousands of Chinese workers who built the ark are coldly refused entry into the “life-saving” vessel they constructed.
While these debates continue and will never truly reap any answers, everyone should take a break and ask why are blockbusters rarely featured in film school curriculums and academic reviews? Perhaps it’s because they are just supposed to be mindless entertainment for the masses based on over-exaggerated accounts of fictional events. However, at the same time it is refreshing to see that Chinese people are voicing their frustration at always being portrayed negatively by Hollywood. Throughout the ages, China has been ridiculed by Hollywood; there was the bucked-teeth “Chinese” guy in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Fu Manchu classics starring a “Chinese” Christopher Lee as a villain trying to take over the world, or the latest batman movie The Dark Night which was not screened in China due to “cultural sensitivities,” to name but a few.
Go see the movie yourself and make up your own mind. Below is a list of cinemas currently screening 2012. Also check out other movie events in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou on eChinacities’ City Guide page.
Screening period: November 13 - Dec 13
UME Cineplex Haidian
Stellar International Cineplex (Wangjing)
Megabox (Sanlitun Village Branch)
Megabox (Zhongguancun Branch)
Wanda International Cineplex
UME International Cineplex
Shanghai Stellar International Cineplex
Kodak Cinema World
Wanda International Cinema
Broadband International Cineplex
Shanghai Film Art Center
UME International Cinema Guangzhou
Warner Jinyi International Cinema Guangzhou
Guangzhou Flying International Cinema
Poly International Cinema Shenzhen
China Film Antaeus International Cineplex
Warner Jinyi Cinema Shenzhen
Golden Harvest Shenzhen Cinema
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