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Commentary triggers debate on impact of rating sites on China’s film industry

Poster of See You Tomorrow Photo: Douban

A recent commentary published by state-owned newspaper China Film News blaming “malicious” opinions on social media and rating websites like Douban and Maoyan for hurting China’s film industry went viral on social media, with many Internet users debating objectivity of rating websites and the role of movie critics in China's film industry.

While the article says every filmmaker should improve their work by getting their films examined by the market, it also claims that several Weibo celebrities are making “malicious” and “irresponsible” comments just for “grabbing eyeballs” and “attracting fans”, which “seriously damages the ecosystem of the film industry.”

The article was written after a film critic @亵渎电音 (literally meaning “blaspheme film”) wrote on Weibo that “Zhang Yimou has died!” referring to his latest film The Great Wall which only gets 4.9 points on Douban, according to the site on Thursday, while it has grossed nearly 900 million mainland box office as of Thursday, according to Ant Group.

The China Film News article spread quickly on China’s online community and triggered public discussions after it was reposted Tuesday by the APP of state-owned newspaper People’s Daily with an edited title highlighting that “malicious reviews” are hurting China’s film industry, while the content of the article remains the same as the original one.

“In such a mobile Internet era, service websites like Douban and Maoyan have played a part in providing movie information and guidance to the audiences. However, it is so surprising to see the scores of the three New Year blockbusters by Douban and Maoyan,” reads the article referring to the three latest Chinese films, The Great Wall, See You Tomorrow, and Railroad Tigers.
“As of 7:00 pm on December 27, only 6.6% of the 43,300 viewers rated 5 stars for See You Tomorrow, while 40% gave 1 star,” the article said, questioning whether such a score on Douban is trustworthy.

The article also says that thousands of viewers gave 1 star to See You Tomorrow on Douban even before the film’s premiere was over on December 23, claiming that hackers may have interfered in the scoring system.

Regarding Maoyan, also a ticket selling platform which classifies the ratings into “audience scoring” and “professional scoring”, the article, however, claims that there are only “69 professional critics” on the website to rate the films. Furthermore, such “professional critics” are “either super film lovers or film researchers”, which means there would be “a huge difference” between their ratings and audiences’.

The commentary quickly ignited a wave of discussion on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like Chinese microblogging platform, on Wednesday with many arguing that what should be judged is the quality of the film rather than the rating system.

“The audiences themselves know better than anybody else whether the scoring is fair or not. You should first and foremost make a good movie,” said @瓶瓶or乓乓.

“It reflects the people’s strength and anger. You should know that if you want to change the score of a movie on Douban, you will need a large number of people to rate it. So this is a spontaneous event,” commented @黑白影.

On the other hand, some Weibo users think that the commentary concerns more about the scoring system itself rather than the quality of a film, and point out that there may be some “irrational” ratings on Douban.

“Put aside the movie itself. There are truly a lot of people who did not even see a movie before they rated it as 1 star. As more and more people use the website, it is not as objective as before. The reason why a user would give 1 star to a movie could only be because he or she does not like the actors or the name of the movie,” said @ Little_Fairy_V.

“It has nothing to do with whether the film sucks or not. There’s nothing bad if there is some regulation to prevent cheating, no matter it’s cheating for high score or low score,” said @电影那件小事.

The fermenting public discussions also captured some filmmakers’ attention, for example Gao Xiaosong (@高晓松 ), a Chinese director better known as a musician and talk-show star, and whose works are listed on Douba, a social networking website which provides user-generated contents (UGC) on books, movies, music, events and so on.
“I haven’t been to Douban for a long time. Yesterday I went there as you did to show my support, and took a look at the scores of my works there by the way. I saw that my music works get the highest scores followed by my talk shows. Then comes my books, and the last are my films. The public’s eyes are very bright, I acknowledge that,” he said half-jokingly on Weibo.

“Douban and film critics will not cause a collapse of China’s film industry. A bad film will,” commented Yang Shiyang@杨时旸, a film critic and columnist for Tencent, “No matter it’s The Great Wall or See You Tomorrow, people talk about the shows they care … If one day all of those spontaneous commentators do not talk about China’s films any longer, it would not mean the triumph of Chinese movies, but destruction.”

Yang was echoed by Karwai Wong, one of the screenwriters of See You Tomorrow, who said during an event in Nanjing on Wednesday that “a film critic is a candid friend of film,” and “all the film review platforms are precious for us, so we need to protect them. Both the filmmakers and the film critics should make efforts together to push the film industry.”

Yang Bo, founder of Douban, said in response that the scoring system of Douban is fair. He also reposted on Douban an article he wrote a year ago explaining the scoring system.

“We don’t censor the scorings, neither does an editor monitors that. The system automatically includes all new scores into the system,” the article reads.

Maoyan also reacted by temporarily canceling its “professional rating” function, as one of its staff said the system is “being optimized” and will work as usual very soon, according to the Beijing News.

Hao Jiemei, author of the article was quoted by the Beijing News as saying the article was not targeting Douban and Maoyan on purpose. Instead, “as professional platforms serving and guiding audiences, it is their obligation to maintain their brands and credibility, and to create an objective and fair scoring system.”

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