Foreigners surveyed about Chinese cinema

Natalie Portman on Movie World.
There's a big feature in the May issue of Movie World magazine called "Exporting China" that takes a look at overseas attitudes on Chinese film. Sections include:

· "Incomplete overseas box-office statistics for Chinese film": World, USA, and a chart divided by director;

· "Chinese symbols in Chinese film": (1) Kung-fu; (2) Mao Zedong and the Red Revolution; (3) Zhang Yimou; (4) Wang Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien; (5) The Sixth Generation;

· "A primer for reading Chinese cinema in the west" - how Curse of the Golden Flower was received in France;

· "Film and cultural misreading" - a look at how US, Italian, Hong Kong, French, Japanese, and other movies convey a skewed view of their respective societies.

The feature kicks off with a survey involving nearly 600 non-Chinese respondents who were asked about their perceptions of China and Chinese film. Here's a translation:

Chinese Cinema and Cinematic China

A survey of foreign viewers of Chinese film
LISA, Xu Yuan, Zuo Ying / MW

Survey sheets returned: 596
Survey methods: Interviews in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong; interviews by foreign correspondents in the US, France, and Japan; email questionnaires.
Nationalities: US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Korea, Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Israel, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, and South Africa
Respondents: Tourists, film producers, reporters, exchange students, foreign teachers, logistics personnel, marketing and sales personnel, game development CEO, designers, businessmen, housewives.
End date: 25 April 2007

Note: Percentages are the proportion of valid responses that mentioned that item.

Have you seen any Chinese movies?
Yes: 92%
No: 8%

What Chinese movies have you seen?

(1) Ten most frequently mentioned Chinese movies

1. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙): 25%
2. Hero (英雄): 18%
3. The Last Emperor (末代皇帝): 15%
4. House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏): 13%
5. Curse of the Golden Flower (满城尽带黄金甲): 11%
6. Rumble in the Bronx (红番区): 8%
7. In the Mood for Love (花样年华): 6%
8. Kung-fu Hustle (功夫): 7%
9. Fearless (霍元甲): 6%
10. The Emperor and the Assassin (荆轲刺秦王): 5%

Other frequently-mentioned films: Drunken Master (醉拳), Police Story (警察故事), Once Upon a Time in China (黄飞鸿), Farewell My Concubine (霸王别姬), A Better Tomorrow (英雄本色), The Killer (喋血双雄), The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司), Ju Dou (菊豆), Not One Less (一个都不能少), To Live (活着), In the Heat of the Sun (阳光灿烂的日子), The Wedding Banquet (喜宴), Shaolin Soccer (少林足球), The Banquet (夜宴), Riding Alone for 1000 Miles (千里走单骑), 2046, Seven Swords (七剑), The Promise (无极), Romeo Must Die (致命罗密欧), The Opium War (鸦片战争).

Exceptional responses: Fourteen foreigners misidentified Japanese films and Chinese films; Battle Royal (大逃杀) was mentioned as a Chinese film by six people. In addition, the Hollywood film Memoirs of a Geisha starring Zhang Ziyi was thought by two people to be a Chinese film.

(2) Chinese actors and directors whose movies were mentioned most often

Many different movies made by different people in the Chinese film sector were mentioned; in addition, some respondents could not come up with titles, but instead directly said the name of the director or the star. This data is collected below:
1. Jackie Chan (成龙) - including Hollywood films: 43%
2. Bruce Li (李小龙): 39%
3. Zhang Yimou (张艺谋): 37%
4. Ang Lee (李安) - including Hollywood films: 29%
5. John Woo (吴宇森) - including Hollywood films: 22%
6. Wong Kar-wai (王家卫): 15%
7. Jet Li (李连杰): 13%
8. Chen Kaige (陈凯歌): 11%
9. Stephen Chow (周星驰): 9%
10. Movie title and cast & crew unknown: 6%

(3) Film genres mentioned
1. Martial arts & action: 78%
2. Historical: 13%
3. Contemporary life: 9%

What Chinese movie is your favorite, or do you think is the best? Why?
1. None, or no answer: 35%
2. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: 16%
- Fighting and story are both good; eastern flavor
3. Hero: 13%
- Beautiful cinematography
4. Bruce Li's and Jackie Chan's movies: 7%
5. Movies that reflect China's history: 5%
6. Curse of the Golden Flower: 4%
- Astonishing story and style
7. Gangster films starring Chow Yun-fat (周润发): 3%
- Coolest Chinese actor
8. Farewell My Concubine: 2%
- Can understand Chinese history and culture
9. In the Mood for Love: 2%
10. House of Flying Daggers: 1%
Mainland art films mentioned by respondents:Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern (大红灯笼高高挂), In the Heat of the Sun, Beijing Bicycle (十七岁的单车), Nuan (暖), Pickpocket (小武), Riding Alone for 1000 Miles, The Opium War.

What Chinese movie elements do you like best?
1. Don't know, or no answer: 31%
2. Martial arts. You are skilled at shooting very entertaining violent scenes: 21%
3. A unique visual effect that I've never seen before: 16%
4. Stories about Chinese history and culture: 6%
5. Gong Li and all enchanting Chinese women: 3%
6. Scenes of rural life and films that show natural scenery. They show me the real lives of common Chinese people: ~2%
Exceptional responses: One person liked scenes of chopsticks in Chinese movies, saying that they looked like magic.

What Chinese movie elements do you like least?
1. Can't answer - I haven't seen enough movies: 42%
2. Poorly-produced martial arts films; crude settings; idiotic stories: 17%
3. Scenes of excessive pageantry; imitation of Hollywood special effects: 8%
4. Excessive violence: 6%
5. Poor people suffering oppression: 3%
6. Tedium; impenetrable plot: 2%
Exceptional responses: Some people did not like Chinese love stories because the lead actors are ugly.

Directed criticism
1. I had high expectations for Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower, but I was disappointed. Why do the Empress and Emperor fight like that? Why are the colors so dazzling? The battle scenes at the end were too exaggerated.
2. Zhang Yimou's and Chen Kaige's costume dramas are ridiculous.
3. Hero's plot had too many twists and turns; I couldn't understand at all.
4. Shaolin Soccer was a cartoon to trick kids, but it was too violent and not fun at all.
5. Jackie Chan's movies are all the same. Really boring.

What do you think Chinese films are missing?
1. Subject matter lacks diversity: 44%
2. Unknown, or no answer: 23%
3. No plot, or an exaggerated, fake story. Reality should be better emphasized: 19%
4. Too serious, lacking in humor: 8%
5. It's a marketing problem: international cinema chains bring in just a limited number of Chinese films: 3%
Nearly 50% of respondents said they have never seen Chinese gangster films, cop films, science fiction, romances, or cartoons.

Who is your favorite Chinese movie star?
1. None: 24%
2. Jackie Chan: 18%
3. Bruce Li: 15%
4. Gong Li (巩俐): 12%
5. Zhang Ziyi (章子怡): 7%
6. Chow Yun-fat (周润发): 5%
7. Maggie Cheung (张曼玉): 5%
8. Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼): 3%
9. Lucy Liu (刘玉玲): 2%
10. Jet Li (李连杰): 2%
Other Chinese stars mentioned relatively frequently: Stephen Chow, Ge You (葛优), Jiang Wen (姜文), Leslie Cheung (张国荣)
Exceptional responses: Many people mistook Japanese actors for Chinese actors; also, singing star Coco Lee has a degree of fame in the US.

When you hear the term "Chinese Film," what is the first thing you think of?
1. Chinese kung-fu; flying warriors and swordsmen: 33%
2. Ancient Chinese architecture and clothing: 18%
3. Chinese characters: 11%
4. Bamboo forests, beautiful natural scenery: 9%
5. Girls in qipao: 8%
6. Underworld gangs: 6%
7. Red lanterns: 5%
8. Mahjong, gambling: 4%
9. Poor peasants living on plateaus of yellow earth: 3%
10. Polygamy: 2%
Exceptional response 1: Four foreigners said the first thing they thought of was "eunuchs"
Exceptional response 2: Two people first thought of Red Guards beating "bad people" on the street

Through Chinese movies, what do see as "Chinese characteristics"?
1. Ancient Chinese architecture and traditional attire: 32%
2. Martial arts: 24%
3. Rice, Chinese food: 12%
4. Respect for superiors, hierarchical system: 10%
5. Massive population, different ethnic groups: 9%
6. Unknown, or not answered: 8%
7. Natural scenery: 5%
8. The Chinese language: 3%
9. Poverty: 2%
10. Traditional Chinese families: 2%
Exceptional responses: One person thought that the majority of Chinese movies were superficial action films, and to truly understand a country you needed to watch documentaries.

What has shocked you the most in Chinese movies?
1. Nothing, or no answer: 26%
2. Luxurious imperial palaces: 23%
3. Epic battles: 17%
4. Women who know kung-fu: 11%
5. Ancient customs (like kneeling and bowing) and ways of living: 9%
6. Inhibitions imposed on oneself: 7%
7. Polygamy: 7%
8. Drinking: 5%
9. Veneration of ancestors: 3%
10. Ancient Chinese criminal punishment: 2%
Exceptional responses: One person was highly surprised that "Chinese people are reluctant to kiss" in movies.

After coming to China, what do you think the greatest difference is between China in the movies and China in reality?
1. There are modern buildings all over and cars cover the streets - the real China is modern: 23%
2. It's not a bunch of fighting all the time - you never see people who know kung-fu or who can fly: 18%
3. Beijing's nightlife is really colorful: 16%
4. Practically everything in Chinese movies isn't the real China: 13%
5. Ideas about sex have opened up; there are lots of fashionably-dressed women on the streets: 11%
6. No feeling of being constrained by lots of rules: 9%
7. Gangsters are over-romanticized in the movies: 7%
8. There is too much environmental pollution, completely different from in the movies: 4%
9. The environment is beautiful and people live well-off lives, completely different from in the movies: 2%
10. Nothing much is different: 2%
Exceptional responses: One person said that life in modern China is not as interesting as life in ancient China. Nor is it as polite, as well-off, as romantic, or as thoughtful. And no one knows kung-fu.

Please sum up the feelings toward China (and the Chinese people) you have gotten from Chinese movies.
1. Kind, patient: 28%
2. Aggressive, willing to fight to help others: 21%
3. Imperial demeanor; deep sense of traditional culture: 17%
4. Filled with poetry; rich and colorful; exquisitely sentimental; enchantingly graceful: 14%
5. Conservative, backward: 12%
6. Exaggerated sense of being at the center: 8%
7. Hard to say, because after watching Chinese movies, China becomes something indistinct: 3%
8. High level of civilization: 2%
Exceptional response: Two people proudly said that they felt happy because they had married Chinese women.

How do you watch Chinese movies?
1. TV: 34%
2. Cinema: 30%
3. DVD: 17%
5. Online (downloaded): 8%
6. Film festivals: 6%
7. At a Chinese friend's house: 4%
8. In class with a teacher: 1%

Through movies, what would you most like to know about China?
1. Traditional culture such as Peking Opera and Chinese-style painting: 35%
2. Ancient history, lives of the emperors: 21%
3. Beautiful women: 10%
4. Mao Zedong and the red Chinese revolution: 8%
5. How to practice Chinese kung-fu: 6%
6. Chinese rural villages: 5%
7. Beijing: 4%
8. Tibet: 4%
9. Modern lives of common Chinese people: 3%
10. Beliefs and religion of Chinese people: 2%
Exceptional response: One person most wanted to know whether eunuchs had sex lives.

What is your impression of Chinese elements in the cinema of your own countries or other non-Chinese-language cinema?
1. None, or no answer: 25%
2. Chinese people are all martial arts fighters or bodyguards: 17%
3. They don't really know how to speak: 11%
4. Chinese people are mostly illegal immigrants or gangsters: 8%
5. Chinese people are very cautious and mysterious. They never change their way of life: 7%
6. To date they still respect [culture] and history; this is unheard of in the US: 4%
7. Chinese people celebrate the Spring Festival and perform lion dances: 4%
8. Chinese people are thin: 3%
9. Men have long queues and smoke opium: 2%
10. No particular impression; it seems that they are all of a single type, all very similar: 2%
Exceptional response: One person mistook Japanese kimonos for Chinese dress, but this is not exactly wrong, since kimonos were the "Wu costume" of China's Spring and Autumn Period. This double-misconception is similar to people thinking that Buddhism originated in China.

With which historical Chinese figure are you most familiar?
1. Mao Zedong (毛泽东): 31%
2. None, or no answer: 17%
3. Confucius (孔子): 12%
4. Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇): 9%
5. Sun Yat-sen (孙中山): 8%
6. Li Bai (李白): 5%
7. Ci Xi (慈禧): 4%
8. The Last Emperor Puyi (末代皇帝 - 溥仪): 4%
9. Genghis Khan (成吉思汗): 3%
10. Wu Zetian (武则天): 1%
Exceptional responses: If we take Wong Fei-hong, Huo Yuanjia, and Fong Sai-yuk to be historical figures, then they would be ahead of Confucius.

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There are currently 15 Comments for Foreigners surveyed about Chinese cinema.

Comments on Foreigners surveyed about Chinese cinema

section 1 above lists "memoirs of a geisha" and "battle royale" as "exceptional response(s)" because these foreign films were identified by respondents as being chinese.

how about "the last emperor"? call me crazy, but i had always assumed that bernardo bertolucci was italian.

b: confirmed Bernardo Bertolucci is italian :)

how poor we (foreigners) can be sometimes...
last night i finished to watch 无间道, i found it truly better than "the departed". i guess that also many people does not know that scorsese's oscar was a remake of a chinese movie.

I'm pretty sure Romeo Must Die counts as a Hollywood film as well.

I wonder what this survey would have looked like before Crouching Tiger/Flying Daggers/Hero exploded overseas. Probably all Jacky Chan and Bruce Lee then.

Yes, lots of people, even here in Sweden has watched Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, one of my fav movies!

I find it sad to see that Chinese cinema continues to be marginalized due to an overemphasis on martial arts films. Ever since the success of Crouching Tiger, Zhang Yimou has gone into imitation mode and has been making the same movie over and over again.

Do we really need yet another martial arts epic? Zhang Yimou--Go back to making movies about rural China.

b wrote:
"section 1 above lists "memoirs of a geisha" and "battle royale" as "exceptional response(s)""

DUDE...No way is that correct.......

"Battle Royale" is F-ing awesome...BUT isn't it a Japanese movie? F-ing way is "Battle Royale" a Chinese flick. Its impossible that Chinese made such an awesome movie...that's definitely Japanese. The Japanese make great stuff.

"Rumble in the Bronx" also NOT a Chinese movie.

And everyone makes this mistake. Bruce Lee is an American folks. He was born in San Francisco.
Bruce Lee is as much Chinese as I am Irish and I was born in stop stealing my American brother and claiming him as Chinese. Bruce Lee is an American.

If 'The Last Emperor' isn't Chinese because of the director, then does that mean that 'Brokeback Mountain'
is Chinese? (Or at least Taiwanese). If so that must be the most famous Chinese movie right now.

FRITZ: (if you are that fritz) is a pity that at the end you did not get in touch with the guy who want to show your documentary in wuhan.

last movie i found interesting is 三峡好人 *贾樟轲*
i suggest to everyone.

Heavens! Who on earth dares call ME a historical Chinese figure! And why the hell do I show up on position no. 9 only! I was the greatest conqueror of all times! If I wasn't dead already, I would certainly punish someone for all this...

Is 无间道 infernal affairs? Infernal affairs was definitely NOT better than the departed. Too much weird cellphone product placement. And I understand this is a cultural thing, but American me prefers cynical, violent, slapstick ending to the rather unlikely conclusion of infernal affairs: moral regeneration. I think some films just don't translate across culture that well and so the Scorcese remake took a great concept (that was not executed as well as it could have been) and made it look, feel and end like a Scorcese film.

I just love that they're willing to claim Taiwanese films and filmmakers, but not to ask any foreigners in Taiwan what they think of Chinese film.

"Interviews in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong; interviews by foreign correspondents in the US, France, and Japan; email questionnaires. "

I think this is the key to understanding the whole survey: they took an unrepresentative sample of foreigners. It would have been better to have interviewed random foreigners in their home countries.

Many Chinese seem to think that Zhang Yimou movies have given all foreigners the impression that China is a "poor" place, and this was reflected in the questions asked, in my opinion. However, I would estimate that somewhere between 3 and 1% of Americans have seen a Zhang Yimou movie (perhaps in Europe it is a bit higher).

Unfortunately, I would say that besides kung-fu, foreigners generally have no impression of China whatsoever based on its movies.

Which Infernal Affairs are you talking about? There was a mainland ending, made specifically because mainlanders have a weak sense of reality. In the original ending, Andy Lau has to live the rest of his life hiding the secret of being a mole and living with the guilt of his own misdeeds.

Oh, Tetsuo, so you deny that Taiwan is a part of the Republic of China, especially since the RoC already has de facto control over the island?

无间道 that i'm talking about is a trilogy, kind of long, the mainland ending was actually like the original ending, can be possible that the mainlanders have recuperate their sense of reality?

i still prefere 无间道than "the departed", just Jack Nicholson is incomparable.

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