Scenes from Love is Not Blind [Photo: douban]
For the Chinese movie industry, 2011 was a landmark year: box office revenue reached over 13.1 billion yuan ($2.1 billion), an astounding 28.93 percent increase over 2010. The Flowers of War made international headlines, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate brought 3D wuxia (martial arts) to the screen for the very first time, and even small-budget movies received a warm welcome from audiences.
Following the great strides made in 2011, film industry insiders and moviegoers alike are abuzz with speculation over what's in store for 2012.
Smaller films made big splash
Over the past year, three small-budget movies, Eternal Moment, The Piano in a Factory and Love is Not Blind, flexed their competitive muscle by attracting audiences and critical praise.
Box office revenue for Love is Not Blind was over 350 million yuan in total and Eternal Moment made more than 198 million yuan. While The Piano in a Factory made less at the box office, its star, Wang Qianyuan, received the Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actor in 2010.
According to Chen Shan, professor at the Beijing Film Academy, the allure of small-budget films in the era of big-budget blockbusters is their ingenuity.
"Because their original cost is much lower, they can be more flexible with their themes. They dare to try something different from the mainstream, while blockbusters have to be more cautious," he said to the Global Times.
Chen's observation seems to be well founded. Looking back, the films with the highest budgets seemed to center on traditional themes like wuxia (Flying Swords), or historical plots (Flowers). Similar stories have been told and retold over the years, and in 2011, these films only recycled the same themes, climaxes and story structures, but using different stars, giving the characters different professions, or choosing different backgrounds.
Scene from The Piano in a Factory [Photo: douban]
All in all, these movies are great at delivering thrills, astounding visual effects, and glossy entertainment, but their stories and characters may not resonate with people as much as those of smaller-budget films. Some of the bigger action movies left moviegoers dazed, like they just walked off a roller coaster, while giving them little to chew over in reflection. Sometimes escapism is just the ticket after a hard week at work, but many film fans are craving more from their cinema experiences.
Mo Nika, a 25-year-old white-collar employee at an auto company, agrees: "A good movie does not need a big budget, but should provide its audience something to remember," he said. Taking The Piano in a Factory as an example, he added, "Few of the actors or actresses are well known but the story is based on the lives of real people, and really got audiences thinking about their own lives."
The Piano in a Factory tells a story of a laid-off worker who, in order to realize his daughter's musical dreams, constructs a piano out of discarded steel with the help of his friends.
Another convincing example is Love is Not Blind, which follows a young woman trying to find happiness after her boyfriend dumps her. Not only did this theme resonate with most audience members, the script provided interesting dialogue between the characters.
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