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HONG KONG — Ever since Tiny Times made its bow in China three weeks ago, there has been much debate about the film’s economic and social value, discussed among audiences and on social media. But the controversy over the film has now hit a new level, with the government’s official mouthpiece weighing in with an article damning the movie’s materialistic worldview.
While the piece makes points similar to the criticism directed at the film on Chinese social media, the article has ironically led to self-confessed detractors of the film reversing course to tweet their support of the film to show their disapproval of the state’s attempt to control content.
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Published in the cultural pages of People’s Daily on Monday, an article titled “Tiny Times and Big Times” described director Guo Jingming as having “cleverly gotten hold of his own target audience — the vast teenage demographic.”
“Youth has its own characteristics and there’s no sin to that, but Tiny Times has led a lot of people to see a lot of things beyond the youthful spirit, and produced discomfort that’s hard to shake off,” the piece added.
Taking aim at the film’s major point of contention — the depiction of the four young female protagonists’ emergence into a lavish, commodity-driven adulthood — the article said that literary and artistic creation in an “increasingly materialistically developed China” should present a “necessary” and “valuable” exploration of the relationship between material goods and human beings.
“But if this exploration merely stops at the level of the creation and ownership of these material goods and turns them into the object of one’s life pursuit and abides by a consumerist ethos, this is ‘belittling’ one’s times, narrowing one’s vision and lowering one’s thinking,” the article said.
Further on, the piece continued: “Today, if what is heard and seen are [films like] Tiny Times — whether it’s because there’s profit to be made at the box office, and there’s an unconditional indolence among the audience leading to the emergence of Tiny Times 2 and Tiny Times 3 — the capitalistic maneuvers of an individual or a small group might have succeeded, but the humanistic development and communication of an era will have spun out of control.”
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It’s this last comment that led to a wave of debate and speculation in Chinese social media on Monday, given that Guo just announced his ambitious plans to advance the release of Tiny Times 2 to August — four months earlier than originally scheduled, and a move seen as an effort to capitalize on the $77.4 million gross generated by the first installment during the past three weeks.
Writing in his own Weibo account (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), journalist Xiao Feng said: “Given how against the times the People’s Daily is, I’ll support Tiny Times unconditionally!” Responding to his tweet, another Weibo user wrote, “Although I don’t like Tiny Times as a movie, I like its framework, giving freedom back to culture.”
Meanwhile, Shanghai Business News deputy editor-in-chief Chen Jibing tweeted: “I have frequently criticized ‘vulgar,’ ‘nonsensical’ contemporary culture and arts, but I think what we should condemn more strongly is this perspective of having them suppressed by administrative powers.”
Blogger Wang Xing WX questioned who the article accused of being “unconditionally indolent” in its support of the film. “If it’s the audience, it’s just the writer calling them out; but if it’s the relevant government department, and this piece is calling for regulation of the film, this is just ignorance of what the movie market is actually like,” he said.
Meanwhile, a self-described poet-screenwriter Weibo user identifying himself as Luchou said: “We are already flooded by materialism and consumerism — do we really need a silly movie to lead us there?”
When contacted by The Hollywood Reporter, Guo’s publicist said the director had no comments to make regarding the People’s Daily article or the debate that has ensued. However, Chen Lizhi, the rep’s boss and the owner of the company promoting Tiny Times, wrote in a Weibo entry that people “can write all kinds of commentary, whether it’s about [the film’s] spiritual content or flaws in its production values — but to elevate a film to say it influences an era — this is really too heavy.”
The latest stance by People’s Daily regarding Tiny Times was in deep contrast to articles published in the newspaper earlier this month, such as a July 1 piece titled “To Their Youth Which Is Burning Bright,” which sang praises of the film’s depiction of China’s younger generation, and a piece the next day (“Youth Movies … We’ve Waited Far Too Long”) that was in essence a roll call of all the box office records the film managed to shatter during the first week of its run. Meanwhile, the country’s official Film Bureau just green-lit the production of two Tiny Times sequels, ensuring that this self-questioning national conversation is likely to continue.
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