BEIJING — The Chinese government keeps a famously tight rein on the Internet, which has 111 million users and counting, but the tide may be too strong for even a squad of 40,000 Net Nannies to stop. Already, the country is home to a motley crew of bloggers and filmmakers who are ever more cleverly negotiating around the Great Firewall of China.
One of the clearest, and perhaps funniest, example of the emerging power of the Internet in China happened when a young, unemployed filmmaker made a 20-minute online parody of Chen Kaige’s pic “The Promise,” sending Internet auds into hoots.
While the reception for “The Promise” itself was lukewarm, Hu Ge’s mickey-take, “The Steamed Bun Murder,” was an instant hit.
“The Internet already has a huge impact on the entertainment industry insofar as the product reception goes,” said Roland Soong, whose EastSouthWestNorth (or ESNW) blog one of the most influential blog in Mandarin.
“A movie such as ‘The Promise’ may have a promotional budget in the tens of millions of yuan, but the Netizens practically demolished it,” he says.
Late 2005 saw the country’s first blog movie, “A Hard Day’s Night,” bow in Beijing.
The witty 50-minute pic is the story of a ordinary blogger’s night out gone wrong, when a man is picked up by police for armed robbery then mistaken for a famous thesp, then a music critic.
The project was scripted, supplied, helmed and distributed by 30 enthusiastic bloggers, all friends working in the industry who shot the movie on Dec. 24 and 25 using a $500 digitial video camera and a PC. Total cost of the movie was $123.50, but one third of that was used to pay for the damage caused to a car which was borrowed.
The movie’s poster was a manifesto of sorts, promising “zero sincerity, zero originality, zero meaning, zero stunts, zero acting skills, zero cost, zero sex scenes — and zero box office records” and the script was based on a fabricated blog article written by Wang Xiaofeng, a Chinese reporter with the Beijing-based Lifeweek magazine.
“It is not really a movie in the strictest sense. It was simply a fun project by a group of bloggers who are so idle their balls ache,” Wang quips.
Blogs are revolutionary in China in that they are the most widely available, and most widely used, form of free expression China has ever seen.
“Before the Internet, there was no public space to articulate individual political opinion. What was one to do? Write a letter to a newspaper? Or publish your own book?” ESNW mused.
Despite the proliferation of the blogosphere, the Chinese government is trying to keep a beady eye on the booming sector.
The blog of Michael Anti, an outspoken political pundit, was shut down under government orders in December; several Internet writers have been jailed over the sensitive content of e-mails and postings.
Jeremy Goldkorn has lived in China for over 10 years and runs a Web site about media and advertising called Danwei, which closely follows the rise of blogs on the Chinese Internet.
“I believe blogs and BBS (online forums, which are still more influential and popular than blogs in China) have allowed people an unprecedented amount of freedom of expression. This is an important part of a sea change to a more open society. But will they bring revolution? I don’t think so,” Goldkorn says.
As for the big international firms like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, they have both helped to popularize the Internet but they have also on occasion kowtowed to Beijing’s censorship rules.
Last year, Yahoo was accused of supplying data to China that was used to jail a Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, for leaking state secrets.
“All these companies have contributed to the expansion and development of the Internet in China. Their presence has broadened freedom of information and expression in China, though they have sometimes gotten their hands dirty by making compromises of one kind or another,” Goldkorn said.