‘Blade Runner 2049’ ignites a 3D screening controversy in China

The latest news in China’s film industry, including a possible lifting of China’s unofficial embargo against South Korean cultural imports.

Chinese moviegoers are finding it exceedingly difficult to catch screenings of Blade Runner 2049 (银翼杀手2049) on a traditional movie screen instead of in 3D, as theaters have largely ignored passionate petitions (all links in Chinese unless otherwise noted) from Chinese netizens to arrange for more 2D screenings. Moreover, according to the entertainment news outlet Yiqipaidianying, additional 2D screenings for 2049 in China are often relegated to inferior showtimes and worse theaters, making it less likely for the 2D version to outgross its 3D counterpart. The favoritism shown to 3D movies by theater managers has angered a certain contingent of Chinese moviegoers, who have accused theaters of making this unilateral decision purely out of monetary considerations.

Tickets to 3D movies are, on average, three to five yuan more expensive than 2D movie tickets. In addition, Chinese audiences generally choose 3D movies over 2D. While audiences in North America have cooled considerably toward 3D movies in the last few years — 3D box offices represented 21 percent of total ticket sales in 2015, a number that dropped to 14 percent a year later — 3D box offices have been steadily growing in China. In 2015, 3D movies occupied 58 percent of China’s annual box office, a number that rose to 67.3 percent one year later.

China was first introduced to 3D movies in 2010, the year that James Cameron’s Avatar grossed an astonishing 1.34 billion yuan ($202 million) in the country. Since then, 3D theaters have flourished, with 3D screens occupying 85 percent of China’s movie screens today (in comparison, only 45 percent of movie screens are 3D in North America).

But while complaints about a shortage of 2D screenings are rare, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t the first movie to have elicited such backlash. Jason Bourne, an action movie replete with fast editing and shaky, handheld camera work, provoked the ire of Chinese moviegoers when it was mostly only available in 3D. Many reviewers on Douban, one of China’s most popular review websites, pointed out that they experienced extreme nausea and dizziness while watching the film in 3D, and were displeased that there were no 2D alternatives.

As for Blade Runner 2049, Chinese moviegoer demands for more 2D screenings stem from cinematographer Roger Deakin’s statement that he preferred (English link) viewing his movie in standard 2D widescreen. Chinese theater managers, meanwhile, said in interviews published in Entertainment Capital that the voices calling for more 2D screenings belong to a hard-core filmgoing minority, and that the majority of film patrons in China still prefer 3D.

China-South Korea relationship thaw might help lift entertainment ban

South Korean TV series Descendants of the Sun, which was a big hit in China.

On October 31, the foreign ministries of China and South Korea issued respective statements signaling a potential détente (English link) in the countries’ bilateral relationship, which has been chilly since last July, when South Korea deployed the American missile defense system THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), raising security concerns for Beijing.

While China has not relented on its opposition against THAAD, it officially expressed a willingness to reopen channels of communication with the South Korean administration in regard to the issue. The thawing also spells good news for South Korea’s entertainment industry, which has suffered from China’s yearlong boycott of South Korean soft culture imports.

China has not officially acknowledged its cultural and economic blockade on South Korea. Nonetheless, since last July, there have been numerous accounts of the banning of Korean entertainment content. Last August, ifeng reported that China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), may have issued directives restricting the appearances of Korean stars in TV shows, movies, commercials, and musical concerts in China. Since last December, variety shows — either those imported from South Korea or those involving South Korean talent — have been forced to adopt new names that bear little resemblance to the original Korean programs. The political tension between the two countries also led to the halting of several Chinese-Korean co-productions, most notably the thriller The Mask 苍崖 (cāng yá), which was originally set to star Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi 章子怡 and Korean actor Ha Jung-woo.

It is, however, still difficult to predict when China’s sanctions toward Korean entertainment content will actually end. During a press conference held during the National Party Congress, Zhang Hongsen, the deputy director of SAPPRFT, remained elusive on the topic of the political friction between China and South Korea and how it has impacted cultural exchange. While Zhang didn’t specify exactly when the blockade might end, he did mention that the trade of cultural goods is “different from other commodities” and that it is facilitated by “the feelings and goodwill the people of two nations hold for each other.” In addition, Zhang said that he has personally witnessed many cultural exchanges between the two countries, citing the significant presence of Chinese filmmakers at the Busan International Film Festival earlier this year.