Interview: Chinese films reaching more Australian audiences

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-01 15:40:21|Editor: Li Xia
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by Duncan Murray

SYDNEY, March 1 (Xinhua) -- Despite language barrier, Chinese films are reaching more Australian audiences with contemporary issues resonating with many people here, an Australian cinema researcher has said.

In recent years Chinese cinema has grown in popularity in Australia, Professor Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, who is currently teaching at the University of New South Wales, told Xinhua recently during the Chinese Film Week in Sydney.

The film week runs from Wednesday to Sunday.

However, despite establishing a presence at many urban multiplex theaters across the country, Chinese films remain a small portion of overall box office takings, he said.

According to Donald the reason for that discrepancy is simple -- language.

"Particularly English speakers really like watching things in their home tongue," Donald explained.

"People who speak English as a first language are really not very good at learning other languages and it shows in their cinema taste."

As well as creating problems for foreign language films coming into the country, English being the predominantly spoken language means Australian filmmakers have little advantage when competing with the U.S. and British film industries.

"Those three cinemas are always competing with each other and America usually wins because it's got much more clout," Donald said.

Despite this, many films manage to bridge the language gap and there are many instances when Chinese films have achieved huge success with Australian audiences.

"There are genres which kind of can cross it. Often genres to do with martial arts and some of the more beautiful films, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- those kind of films," Donald said.

When films do manage to appeal to Australian audiences, their aesthetic differences can actually help in reaching new audiences rather than pushing them away.

Certain Chinese films in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell my Concubine, struck a chord with western audiences for their beauty and epic storytelling.

Although, as is the case with a lot of Chinese art which became popular in the West in the later half of the 20th century, some have criticized the films "orientalization" as depicting an imaginary version of China which is too comfortable for western audiences.

"It's very comfortable, it's not confronting at all and it doesn't say actually there's a really strong contemporary aesthetic and you kind of need to get your heads around this," Donald said.

More recently the contemporary issues expressed in Chinese films are starting to resonate with Australians -- 2019's sci-fi epic, Wandering Earth, with its "planet earth in turmoil" plot, is currently 16th in the Australian box office for 2019.

Themes like environmental catastrophe can resonate strongly no matter where the films screen -- as Donald explains what can translate really well in film are people's common concerns -- and the fear of a planet falling apart reflects a reality which every person now understands all too well.

Cinema's tendency to reflect the deepest issues of human experience and its unique ability to spread a message means that now, as much as ever, events like Chinese Film Week are important.

"I think it's important for all of us to get a much more nuanced understanding of what it means to be Australian today, what it means to be Chinese," Donald said, adding that what better way than through a film.