China’s Film Critics Pinched Between Censors and Web

While the effects of government restrictions on China’s film industry (and, increasingly, America’s) have been widely reported, their impact on the country’s film reviewers has received little attention. At The Los Angeles Times, Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore describes how film critics are caught between state censorship, industry pressure and online insurrection.

China is the fastest-growing movie market in the world, with box-office receipts in 2011 rising 29% from the previous year to break the $2-billion mark. Yet film criticism here remains a practice stunted by corruption and bribes, state censorship and the culture’s emphasis on personal connections, or guanxi, that makes penning negative reviews hard to do. Consumers aren’t in the habit of reading reviews, in part because they are attuned to the fact that the government, and filmmakers, work to ensure only articles they endorse see the light of day.

As such, the young and tech-savvy are increasingly turning to online forums, where outspoken views are easier to come by. Registered users on Douban, China’s largest website devoted to movie, music and book reviews, topped 53 million in 2011 ….

But the Web is not always free from censorship. When the film “Beginning of the Great Revival” was commissioned to mark the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party last year, Douban and Mtime disabled their star rating system and user reviews. The move was an apparent attempt to squash sardonic comments from Internet users about the historical epic, which was seen as heavily propagandistic.