Director Bi Zhifei 毕志飞, 39 years old, needs you to know that by no means is he getting over his debut film Pure Hearts: Into Chinese Showbiz 纯洁心灵, which was a failure, both critically and commercially. You can see nearly 50,000 negative reviews of the film on Douban.com (in Chinese), one of China’s biggest and most trusted movie review and culture websites.
The reviews on global movie rating site IMDB.com are no better: “Beyond description awful,” “Awkwardly amateur and terrible,” and “The worst film on Earth” are the top three comments.
Unlike most filmmakers who opt to disappear from spotlight, at least momentarily, after a box office wipeout, Bi has been unremittingly waging feuds with movie critics and internet users. On May 30, almost nine months after Pure Heart’s premiere, Bi posted to his Weibo account an open letter (in Chinese) to China’s top movie regulator.
He accuses Douban of manipulating public opinion about his film with a biased rating system, and demands a thorough investigation into “a Douban-led gang of movie review websites and critics” that has become “a malignant tumor in the Chinese film industry.”
Bi’s letter is a bizarre combination of self-aggrandizement, whining, and attacks on his critics. Introducing himself as an aspiring director who holds a PhD from Peking University, Bi says that he dedicated 12 years to his “much-anticipated debut,” and that he had received overwhelmingly positive reviews during private screenings attended by movie experts and average people. However, the movie suffered a record-low score of two out of ten on Douban in the first 16 hours of its premiere day. Bi argues this is because the website did not allow people to rate higher, and thus misled the public to believe that the movie was not worth seeing. Pure Hearts currently scores a 2.1 rating on Douban.
In September last year after Douban’s users mercilessly panned his film, Bi urged Douban to “take remedial action” and asked for a public apology. But his requests went unanswered and were denounced as “ridiculous” by many internet users.
In Bi’s new open letter, he claims that his movie is a victim of Douban’s discrimination against domestic films. He says that Douban’s CEO Abei 阿北 “is not a Chinese citizen anymore” and the website “is wholly owned by a foreign enterprise.” Excerpt:
For many Chinese young people who deem Douban as a god of freedom and democracy, they are unaware of Douban’s close linkage with foreign capital. Many critics on Douban profit and attract followers by maliciously insulting domestic movies and attacking the system. That’s why Douban disabled user reviews for films like The Founding of a Party 建党伟业 and The Founding of an Army 建军大业. Otherwise, the comment sections of these two movies would be horrible to look at.
The Founding of a Party 建党伟业 and The Founding of an Army 建军大业 are two recent state-produced films with all-star casts, intended to whip up patriotism and love for the Communist Party. Bi is perhaps inspired by the record-breaking success of Wolf Warrior 2 战狼2 in 2017, and hopes that aligning his terrible film with patriotism might help make positive feedback a Chinese citizen’s duty. The trick is unlikely to work: Pure Hearts is just a corny and badly told story about showbiz in China.
Bi’s letter also says that he filed a lawsuit against Douban in February, and that the case is currently under investigation. But pretty much the entire Chinese internet would much rather he just move on, and perhaps consider a change of career.