Furious online users flock to review sites to rubbish domestic films
China's film administration denied rumors that it summoned representatives of movie review websites for giving low scores to domestic films, amid speculation that the authorities are exerting more pressure to promote homemade films.
Media organizations, including China Central Television, on Wednesday criticized intentional low ratings of movies on popular movie review websites for "severely damaging the ecosystem of Chinese movies."
It cited ticketing platforms Maoyan and social network website douban.com as examples, and featured examples such as Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall, Wong Kar Wai-produced See You Tomorrow, and Railroad Tigers, featuring kung fu star Jacky Chan.
The article speculated that hackers might be manipulating the rating system as See You Tomorrow received more than 1,000 one-out-of-five scores on douban.com a few hours after premiere.
The article went on to say that "Despite some movies with artistic flaws, some microbloggers and WeChat public accounts have released malicious and irresponsible comments to grab attention and to attract readers, severely damaging the ecosystem of Chinese films."
The article went viral immediately, and soon after that, the professional ratings and reviews of some domestic films were removed from Maoyan, with only the ratings from the public left on the site.
Rumors circulated online that China's film authorities have met with both websites, but Zhang Hongsen, chief of the film bureau at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, denied any contact between his bureau and the websites, news website sina.com.cn reported.
Same for soccer?
The criticism has drawn a strong backlash from Chinese netizens.
"If low ratings are to blame for bad domestic movies, following the same logic, should we blame the fans for screwing up China's national soccer team?" read one comment.
The criticism and the rumors that authorities might be interfering have sent tens of thousands of netizens to bash the three aforementioned movies on ratings websites.
The rating of The Great Wall on douban.com dropped from 5.5 on Wednesday to 4.9 on Thursday, with 32.5 percent of viewers giving it one star out of five. The rating of See You Tomorrow dropped from 4.4 to 3.7 and Railroad Tigers from 5.7 to 4.7.
Yuan Dengyu, a film critic, said that the strong backlash was due to a false impression created by the rumor that the authorities are interfering in a strictly personal matter such as how people rate movies.
"Investors in the movies, those who control the capital, are also annoying the viewers. The message is that no matter how bad a film is, we the viewers have no right to criticize it," Yuan told the Global Times on Thursday.
On late Wednesday night, the People's Daily published a commentary, written by Zhang Fan, which said Chinese movies must have the capacity to tolerate low ratings.
Another article by Xiakedao, a WeChat public account of the People's Daily's overseas edition, called some filmmakers "arrogant" and "shameless" to refuse criticism.
"Whatever they make, all viewers can do is applaud. If viewers dare to challenge the movie, they will be labeled as anti-domestic films. If a website dares to provide negative reviews, it will be attacked as leading a boycott of domestic movies. This is arrogance beyond normal people's comprehension," the Xiakedao article read.
Chen Changye, another film critic, said it is illogical to blame review websites for hurting the domestic film industry.
"We do hope to see more constructive comments from the media on the film industry, comments that are technical, rather than sentimental," Chen told the Global Times.
However, the low ratings do not seem to have affected the films' box office receipts. The Great Wall has an accumulative box office of 896 million yuan ($129.8 million) with See You Tomorrow taking 354 million yuan and Railroad Tigers 315 million yuan, according to box office website cbooo.com.