> News > IN CHINA

Professional film criticism echoes ‘cacophony’ in internet era

SUN MEIJUAN | 2022-02-24 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

The domestically-made film “The Battle at Lake Changjin” records the highest box office in 2021 in China. Photo: CFP

Film is one of the most influential inventions of the 20th century, ranking among the popular arts that are most apt to trigger discussions of social topics. Still as a branch of film studies half a century ago, film criticism has now grown into an independent writing and signifying practice. 

In the history of Chinese film development, film criticism has experienced two glorious periods, during which film criticism and film creation have formed a dialogue relationship. Film criticism has influenced the development of film creation, while film creations have provided new research perspectives for film criticism. 
New features 
Every age has its unique temperament. In the internet era, “everyone’s a critic,” yet film criticism might be generalized. In the era of new media, it is urgent for academics to consider how to drag film criticism from the “rising cacophony” into a professional space, thus playing a leading role in film creation and film practice. 
On January 24, 1981, the China Film Critics Association (CFCA) was founded by Zhong Dianfei and others. Over the past four decades, the CFCA has performed an instrumental role in the development and prosperity of Chinese films. According to CFCA President Rao Shuguang, in order to adapt to the new media communication mode, professional academic film criticism should learn to wield internet thinking to expand its transmission and influence, and even disassemble the complete film theoretical system to fit the “fragmented” thinking of the new media network, thereby achieving more effective communication. Film criticism in the internet era should put less emphasis on the “eyeball effect,” avoid clickbait headlines, and lift professionalism. Only professionalism can bring film criticism further. 
“The new word-of-mouth era” is a term coined by Chen Xuguang, a professor from the School of Arts at Peking University. In Chen’s view, the new generation of Chinese moviegoers is growing up with a richer and more professional taste. In short, we have gone past the time when the word of mouth and box office numbers were wildly inconsistent. Film criticism in the internet era is no longer a one-way voice of “authoritarianism,” but a kind of “rising cacophony.” The potential recipients of film criticism are no longer the “silent majority” in the era of TV media. Rather, the “majority” in the era of “everyone is self-media” are those who speak with their thumbs. They have their own communities, tribes, opinion leaders, idols, and group leaders. 
The internet has brought forth the “flourishing” of film criticism generalization. Only by diagnosing the main problems encountered by film criticism under the current cyber environment in China, can we better understand the ecology of contemporary film criticism and put forward more targeted countermeasures to help film criticism and film creation march forward together. 
Zhou Xing, a professor from the School of Arts and Communication at Beijing Normal University, has reviewed film criticism in the internet era from many aspects, such as the concept of film criticism in the internet era, the expression of discourse modes of film criticism, and the construction of aesthetic culture. Zhou noted the main problem of current Chinese film criticism is the disharmony between mainstream criticism and mass criticism. Although film criticism in the internet era informs many people’s perceptions of film, professional and mainstream criticism still cannot be effectively transmitted to the public. 
Echoing that sentiment, Hu Zhifeng, vice president of the Beijing Film Academy, said that with the development of the internet, popular criticism has risen strongly, gradually weakening the influence of mainstream criticism and professional criticism, which is the major problem currently facing film criticism. Film criticism is about the sharing of the whole film, and thus should have the nature of guidance, leading people to deeply grasp and understand the connotations, artistic qualities, and value of films. Traditional mainstream criticism and professional criticism, as one of the subjects of film criticism, should play a leading role, so that people can better appreciate and share various extended ideas and aesthetic attitudes brought by films. It should channel viewers to the theme and artistic style conveyed in films. 
Ways forward 
In Rao’s opinion, the main problem in Chinese film critique is that it is further away from film practice and lacks internal interconnections. Film criticism must track more complex and diverse film practices, and form organic, close, and internal relations with film practices. Only in this way, can it have a positive interaction with, and a leading effect on, film practices. 
In 2021, the annual box office of China’s film market reached 47.258 billion yuan (including the secondary market and service fees). Among them, eight of the top ten grossing films of the year were Chinese films. “The Battle at Lake Changjin” broke the record with takings of 5.772 billion yuan, ranking as the top grossing film in China of all time and the world in 2021. These figures not only reflect the rise of the Chinese film industry, but also that Chinese film criticism has a broader development prospect. For the vigorous development of the Chinese film industry, efforts are urgently needed to prevent mainstream and professional film criticism from being submerged in mass criticism so as to promote the healthy development of film criticism. 
China aims to become a major cinematic player by 2035. According to the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021–25) for the development of the country’s film industry issued by the China Film Administration, film is an important front for disseminating ideas, a popular form of art and literature favored by the public, and a symbol of national cultural soft power. The advancement and prosperity of the film industry is of great significance in developing a great socialist culture in China. It is imperative to construct a well-equipped and up-to-date film criticism standard and evaluation mechanism. 
It is one-sided to employ a single artistic standard and cultural benchmark to measure any film, Chen said. Criticism standards should be differentiated according to the nature and function of objects. We need to properly respect filmic mass culture and entertainment, and adopt an open, flexible, and comprehensive evaluation standard. We should neither focus solely on the performance at the box office, nor blindly indulge in self-admiration while completely ignoring the performance.