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Poster of the film.[Photo:douban.com]
As the Internet plays an increasingly important role in daily life, dilemmas also arise. The "human flesh search" is becoming a controversial method of hunting down "public enemies."
This term refers to Chinese netizens using new media to supervise perceived immoral behaviors in society, by acting as a collective and putting pressure on the perpetrator. Though this sometimes produces positive results, the human flesh search also violates a person's privacy, leading to great repercussions.
Caught in the Web, a new film by Chinese mainland director Chen Kaige, is a movie about the online human flesh search. Premiering on July 6, the professional return of Chen after his focus on historical films and the topic of web violence are both becoming trending topics.
Based on real life
Caught in the Web starts with an ordinary scene: On a bus, a young woman Ye Lanqiu (Gao Yuanyuan) refuses to give her seat to an aged man. TV station intern Yang Jiaqi (Wang Luodan) captures and uploads the incident on the Internet. After watching the clip, TV station journalist Chen Ruoxi (Yao Chen) airs this news, causing Ye to be the target of human flesh search.
Ye dies under great pressure. Netizens later discover that Ye had been diagnosed of an incurable disease when she refused to give her seat. A new human flesh search is started on Chen, causing her to lose both her job and lover.
Adapted from a popular web novel Human Flesh Search by Wen Yu, the first web novel to win the Chinese leading literature award Lu Xun Literature Prize in 2010, the movie makes a few changes to the original.
According to director Chen's statements at a press conference last week, the movie is less dark, with the addition of humorous scenes and editing of the ending. In Wen's version, Chen Ruoxi, the journalist dies. But Chen Kaige's adaptation gives her a new start to life.
"No matter [what we] meet [in life], we should be optimistic," Chen said. "In reality we face so many pains and pressure, so I hope the characters in the movie can be more optimistic."
Chen said that overall, he thinks the Internet brings more progress to society than problems.
Chen Kaige, who earned early fame with movies like Yellow Earth (1984) and King of the Children (1987), has recently branched to historical films like The Promise (2005) and Sacrifice (2010), not as favorably received.
In early 2006, when young video-maker Hu Ge made a spoof and uploaded Chen's The Promise on the Internet, Chen promptly filed a law suit. This gave people the impression of an ill-tempered man.
Six years later, 60-year-old Chen seems to possess a sense of humor. Recently, when he discovered netizens making fun of his new work, he re-posted the spoof on his own Sina Weibo. His new work seems to return to earlier realistic themes.
At a press conference last week, Chen spoke candidly. "Every time I finish a new film, people will ask me if I have changed. I think I have. Otherwise I would not make this film."
"I don't care to be spoofed. People...put labels on me...Like all of you, I live in the 21 century. It's not strange for me to shoot a film about current society," Chen said.
"It is really a fundamental change [for Chen]," movie critic Fang Liuxiang, who often goes by the name Yun Fei Yang, said. "As a traditional Chinese man, Chen was not used to being made fun of on the Internet. Over the years, [he] behaves more with ease."
Fang thinks Chen maintains his style. "As an intellectual representative of the fifth generation directors, Chen is relatively serious," Fang told the Global Times. "[Most of his works] resonate with audience and not hypocritical. Though there are humorous parts, it will not prevent his film from raising awareness about certain issues."
Li Zhong, another movie critic disagrees. "I am not looking forward to this film," he said, "Most Chinese directors have been distanced from reality for years."
Human flesh search
First published in 2007, Human Flesh Search came during a time when web violence had not become a wide issue. But the plot of the novel, in which protagonist Ye is harshly criticized by netizens when they presume she is having an affair with a married man, mimics reality.
Xu Yan, a psychology professor at Beijing Normal University, said that while human flesh searches do not physically harm people, it may cause psychological wounds and mental suffering.
Li Weimin, a sociology professor of Sun Yat-sen University told Nanfang Daily that everyone has a dark side. But due to societal restraints and regulations, people behave more conservatively. When these restrains surface on the Internet, people lose their temper and become more aggressive.
Some netizens need an outlet to vent their dissatisfactions. But pursuing this type of aggression should not be encouraged on the Internet.
Wen said that netizens are easily provoked these days, but they must keep calm. "[We] should respect opposing opinions, we should be more tolerant and trusting."
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