Special effects in Chinese movies far behind Hollywood's

By Ren Zhongxi
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, January 11, 2010
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Avatar has been shown at 80 percent of Chinese cinemas since its premiere on January 4. Lu Chuan, director of Nanking massacre movie City of Life and Death, sighed:" We Chinese filmmakers have to admit that Chinese movies are completely defeated." An online survey shows that more than 30 percent of Chinese audiences think special effects in Chinese movies "can never catch up with Hollywood." Nearly half of the respondents think the gap is more than 20 years.

Are special effects doomed to be lagging behind forever in China? Several Chinese film industry insiders share their views on this issue and provide possible solutions.

Special effects in Storm Warriors 2

Special effects in Storm Warriors 2 [cxnews.zjol.com.cn]

Lack of science fiction and fantasy movies in China

Unlike the top 10 Hollywood box office films, the top 10 Chinese box office hits include only one movie featuring special effects: CJ7. Special effects in the only fantasy film in recent years Painted Skin and war film Assembly are not impressive. Blockbusters such as The Founding of a Republic, She's the One and Red Cliff used very few special effects. Movies full of special effects such as The Promise and Kung Fu Hustles were not listed.

This is partly due to the lack of science fiction and fantasy movies such as special effects featured Lord of Rings and Transformers. Most recent Chinese blockbusters are Kung Fu and action movies.

Many Chinese filmmakers' believe special effects (SFX) are merely to "assist film production." They don't indulge in technologies. Thus audiences may believe that "special effects are not produced by Chinese." Most audiences do not recognize special effects in war films such as Warlords and A Battle of Wits. Huang Hongxian, who works for the studio creating special effects for A Battle of Wits, said it had more than 400 special effects scenes.

Another example is 2009's blockbuster The Founding of a Republic. Audiences tend to pay more attention to the 100 famous stars in the film than its special effects. Director Han Sanping didn't focus much on special effects before he made the film; they were merely used to copy more soldiers and weapons into scenes.

However, some filmmakers have begun to realize how important special effects are. The special effect scenes, produced by a Korean studio, greatly impressed the audiences. Spy movies such as Qiu Xi and The Message added a large amount of SFX, which caught audiences' attention.

Lack of budget and lagging technology

Creating special effects requires huge investments of money, time and professionals. A major reason for weak special effects in China is limited resources.

The special effects supervisor of Hong Kong science fiction Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg said "In the west, the time span of making a film full of special effects is several times longer than in China. They plan for one or two years, we only have two months. They spend one or two years producing, we only have three or four months. Hollywood has more money and human resources."

Storm Warriors 2, the movie with the most fabulous special effects in China currently, cost 80 million yuan (about US$11.7 million) to make, far less than "300" (a budget of US$65 million), not to mention Avatar's US$300 million budget.

Insiders have different opinions about the technology gap between China and Hollywood. Huang Xianhong thinks Hong Kong special effects technology is at least 10 years behind. "Hong Kong filmmakers cannot develop technologies in Transformers even when they are given 10 years." He said. But other experts believe the differences in technology are not as vast as they might seem. The main issue is limited production time. Asian movies generally come out as soon as possible.

In animation director of Astro Boy Zhang Hanning's opinion, the explanation is a lack of professionals. "Compared to Hollywood, we have never accumulated enough special effects experience because we don't have enough professional people working at it. It takes at least two years to train a professional. We must take time." He said.

A possible way to improve special effects in Chinese movies is to create one unforgettable scene to impress the audiences. The director of Storm Warriors 2 spent every penny on several major special effects scenes such as the hero Bu Jingyun's tears melting into terrifying waves and Nie Feng punching enemies into powder.

Overlooking the story

The Promise, directed by famous Chinese director Chen Kaige in 2005, created outstanding special effects but was fiercely criticized by audiences and critics for its poor story. It's just one of several movies, including Storm Warriors 2, that stress special effects too much and overlook the story itself.

Most insiders agree that special effects cannot live without good story, direction and shooting. The department in charge of producing SFX should communicate with other departments to make the movie perfect.

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