Fri, Feb 05, 2010 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: ‘Confucius’ struggles against ‘Avatar’

On the eve of its release in Taiwan, the going looks tough for ‘Confucius,’ a movie panned as wooden and preachy

AFP AND NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

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Nearly two weeks after US blockbuster Avatar was ordered out of some theaters to make way for homegrown epic Confucius (孔子), the Chinese film is not getting a warm welcome.

The movie about the ancient philosopher’s life starring Chow Yun-fat (周潤發) has been savaged by critics and reports suggest box office sales have been sluggish.

The film is being panned as a wooden and preachy biography that sells out by forcing in battle scenes and even a romantic love interest for the revered thinker.

On the popular movie site Mtime.com, it scored a 3.8 out of 10 in user-submitted reviews, compared to 9.4 for Avatar. The Global Times gave it a 4 out of 10, calling it “thoughtless and mind-numbing.”

Han Han (韓寒), one of China’s most popular writers who is widely viewed as a key voice of the country’s youth generation, gave it a two on his popular blog, calling it an entertainment, educational, and business failure.

“It is a film that could be completely done without,” he wrote.

In its first three weeks in China, Avatar topped US$100 million in revenue to become China’s all-time top-grossing film, or about US$4.7 million a day. Confucius averaged just US$1.8 million a day in its first three days, Xinhua reported. State film agencies refused to provide figures.

The previous box-office champ — the disaster epic 2012 — grossed nearly US$70 million dollars late last year, state media has said.

Reports that the 2D version of Avatar was to be pulled late last month sparked accusations the government wanted it pushed aside for Confucius, whose teachings on harmony and respect for authority enjoy official favor under the ruling Communist Party after decades of being suppressed as “feudal.”

The 3D version of Avatar is expected to continue showing through this month as planned, state press reports have said.

On Wednesday, Confucius’ producer denied that US blockbuster Avatar was ordered out of some theaters to make way for the homegrown film.

John Shum, head of the film company that produced Confucius, denied that Avatar was pulled for his film about social harmony and respect for authority — themes that enjoy official favor in China.

“This is not the fact. We shouldn’t complicate the matter. A movie is a movie and we are simply shooting a touching story about Confucius,” he told reporters in Taipei.

“If China wants to politicize things that’s their business ... It has nothing to do with us,” he said. “But I hope they didn’t do it because it would not help, but hurt Confucius instead.”

Meanwhile, theaters in Beijing and across China continue to show the 2D version of Avatar, according to theaters and movie listing Web sites.

Some Chinese have speculated authorities were nervous about the portrayal in Avatar of a tribe resisting humans chasing them from their land on a far-off planet, saying it too closely evoked a wave of unrest in China linked to land disputes that has made authorities nervous.

China allows only 20 foreign films to be shown in its theaters each year splitting revenue among producers, theaters and local distributors, which the US has criticized as unfairly protecting domestic films.

Part of the problem could be that although it is building theaters rapidly, China still has only a fraction of the number in the US. Moreover, perhaps one-third of its estimated 4,700 cinema screens are too antiquated to show foreign films, according to one industry worker.

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