2012: a disaster movie not suitable for children


Chengdu Evening News
November 17, 2009

Today’s Chengdu Evening News aims to stir up some controversy with a feature on the new disaster movie 2012, which opened last week.

“Should 2012 be stopped?” asks the headline at the bottom of the page.

Hong Jiantao (洪剑涛), an actor best known for his role in a sitcom about military cooks, had such a strong reaction to the film that he called for it to be pulled from screens. He posted the following to his blog at 6:21 in the morning of November 14:

When I finished watching the movie I regretted it, particularly for the additional mistake of bringing a child with me. This is a movie cooked up out of ancient rumors, so let’s not discuss whether or not is finely crafted or impressive! Let’s speak only of its social influence: it really is far too shocking. I’ve read reports over the past few days saying that the movie caused a panic — and even suicides — in some places it was shown. I didn’t believe it, and thought all that was simply commercial hype. But ever since 9:30 last night when I finished watching the film, I haven’t been able to get to sleep. I’ll nod off for a few moments but then I’m startled awake by my dreams, which consist entirely of horrifying scenes. Overseas, this film would definitely be given a restricted rating, but our cinemas have not done that. Instead, they’ve been shouting all the way to the box office. They don’t stop any children from watching. I’m an insider in this line of work, and I know full well that it’s just a story and that everything on the screen is created on a computer, but I could still not help being convinced that disaster was really about to strike. Really, you absolutely cannot take children with you to watch this movie. A teenage girl sitting behind me was so scared she started crying, and my own palms were slick with a cold sweat. I advise the departments in charge of film to strictly limit the age of audiences who watch the film, and they ought to warn audience members with weak hearts to avoid going. Future generations should not have to face the future with hopelessness and decadence for the sake of a miniscule speck of profit. And the treatment of China in the film, both scenes and dialogue, were not friendly, and could even be seen as mocking. I home that my words may be echoed by netizens in general and reach the attention of the those in charge of film administration.

Although China’s portrayal in 2012 has generally been seen as positive, the decision to make the country’s citizens and military instrumental in a plan to salvage the remnants of humanity has also been interpreted as a cynical ploy on the part of the film-makers for a large box office in China.

Additionally, some critics have pointed out that China’s role in the plot is to provide massive amounts of manpower in the form of unskilled laborers who not qualified to be saved on the arks they themselves help to build.

The newspaper report quotes a few sentences from a blog post by Tan Fei, a well-known film critic. Tan laughed off Hong’s warning about the dangers of 2012 and put his own spin on the portrayal of the PRC:

Going to watch 2012 because it’s positive about China is a little bit simple and naive, and it depreciates the People’s Currency. All films that China screens promote the country, so why don’t you go buy a ticket to one of them? Is it the domestic vs. foreign distinction? A foreigner may have given you a tiny compliment, but don’t smile till your face falls off. That’s the “love for kind words from foreigners” type. But it’s not the only one. I saw on the blog of an actor named Hong Jiantao a call to stop screening 2012. He’s a “fragile nerves” type. Take a look at Hong’s rationale: everyone gets scared, their heartbeat quickens, and a teenage girl starts crying. Since China doesn’t have a film ratings system, Hong decides to unilaterally classify 2012 as unsuitable for children. This all sounds very nice, and could help hospitals by reducing the number of coronary care patients, but it’s actually a double standard. Are Curse of the Golden Flower, City of Life and Death, The Message, and Wheat, with their indiscriminate killing and torture, unsuitable for children, or is 2012? When those movies were screened, lots of children were uncomfortable and cried, so why didn’t Hong stand up and say something? The fright from 2012 is basically that of a roller coaster, not the bungee jump that actor Hong describes. So before taking it off screens, you’ve first got to stop all roller coasters in amusement parks.

Tan concludes:

2012 is making money off of global disaster, and as a citizen of a socialist country, I oppose this purely mercantilist approach. But in this society, there are far too many technologically inferior commercial products who want to make money off of us. 2012 at least offers us many interesting things, leads to a lot of ideas, and extends a good deal of goodwill in exchange for our money, and for this we ought to be a bit more forgiving.

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