Top Chinese Director Takes Aim at Reality TV Adaptations

Bob Freeman for the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX

Making movies out of reality TV shows is choking creativity, argues Feng Xiaogang.

Leading film director Feng Xiaogang has launched an attack on the current trend in China of adapting reality TV shows into movies, saying this tendency is stifling the creative development of the domestic industry.

His comments came after Running Man, a feature spinoff from a popular local reality TV show, based on a Korean format, overtook Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies atop the box-office charts, with a cume of $61.96 million after 10 days. Running Man reportedly took six days to turn into a film.

This Chinese New Year holiday will also see a follow-up to the hugely popular reality TV adaptation Dad, Where Are We Going?

"If this trend goes on, no movie producers will invest in any serious films by filmmakers. A film that takes a couple of days to make earns hundreds of millions of yuan at the box office, which disheartens filmmakers. Will any other people bother making a good film?" the Aftershock and Cellphone director said on the TV show Hidden Energy.

Many other local filmmakers posted online to support his comments, including He Ping, the director and former secretary general of the China Film Directors Guild, who tweeted: "This is a very serious issue, and the problem is getting more serious. The directors' guild must give voice to our criticism and inform the SAPPRFT [State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television] that they can't lose their professionalism in silence."

However, Feng's remarks have brought him into conflict with People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party. The newspaper published an opinion piece saying the success of these TV show adaptations had been recognized by the market and by audiences.

"Don't underestimate the audience's intelligence and aesthetic sense when it comes to films," it said.

Yu Dong, head of producer and distributor Bona Film, which has made an adaptation of Dad, Where Are We Going? called Emperor Holiday, said there was a reason for the existence of reality TV adaptations.

"As filmmakers, they can't reject a new phenomenon appearing in the market. We will make big films to meet market demands by using good IP. I believe serious filmmakers will get what they deserve because the audiences have sharp eyes," said Yu.

Feng hit back, saying that making a movie in five or six days showed a lack of sincerity, and he used the opportunity to renew his criticism about the absence of a classification system in China.

"Censorship in China is not based on the law and the market," said Feng.

People's Daily is a platform for the powers that be and does not understand filmmaking, he said.

The reason that directors stood up to express their concerns about reality TV adaptations was that the success of the Chinese film market could not be separated from the efforts of filmmakers.