New Hit Web Movie Marks Chinese Cinema’s Online Explosion

By Isabella Tianzi Cai


Wang Xiaoshuai (WANG Taili) and Xiao Dabao (XIAO Yang) in The Bright Eleven:Old Boys

One of the hottest web films in China right now is the 43-minute feature Old Boys, directed by 31-year-old TV commercial director XIAO Yang. It is part of an omnibus film, The Bright Eleven, sponsored by Shanghai General Motor’s Chevrolet Cruze and jointly presented by China Film Group and Youku, the largest video hosting service in China. In theory, online video platforms in China such as Youku allow millions of amateur videos, student films and other works to be seen. Since The Bright Eleven is made by a team of professional filmmakers and has its own marketing team, it has great advantages over the independently produced content found on Youku, especially in terms of reaching an audience.

As the statistics on Youku reveal, Old Boys has been watched over 31 million times since October 28, 2010. A news report dated December 17, 2010 by China Youthology also claims, “Among the films [that consist The Bright Eleven], ‘Old Boys was the most popular, with far more viewers than Zhang Yimou’s latest movie released around the same time.”

As China experiences a boom in film production, it is clear that online video is providing an alternative route for its distribution needs. Last year, roughly 150 out of 500 plus domestic films (meaning films that are registered with the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television) had the chance to be screened in movie theaters in China. As many of the theatrical releases are big-budget blockbusters with spectacular visuals that thrive on the big screen, less space is available for more modest, character-driven productions such as The Bright Eleven.

The Bright Eleven is not treading the old path of theatrical distribution but riding the new wave of online digital distribution, doing its best to tap into the country’s 457-million Internet users. Its success foreshadows the industry news that “[s]even Chinese websites — letv.com, qq.com, joy.cn, xunlei.com, baofeng.com, pptv.com and pps.tv — recently announced plans to produce one movie-watching ‘mega-channel’ later this year” (AFP Relax). We do not know for sure, but it looks like that this new movie website will remain a platform for official releases.

Old Boys tells the story of two ordinary men in their late 20s. They have seen their youth go by and have settled for the simplicity of everyday life. One day, struck by the death of Michael Jackson, who was their school-day idol, they decide to enter a singing contest together. The film goes back and forth between their wondrous but long lost past and their dull and hard-pressed present.

The two lead characters in Old Boys are representative of China’s post-80s generation. China’s Cut-throat competition and fearsome unemployment rate have left many college graduates to fend for themselves. Though some are employed, the jobs they have are not what they have dreamed for. Their youthful aspirations, in the face of having to make a living, are nearing disappearance. The film humorously crafts the laments and nostalgia of one’s bygone youth. These emotions resonate with contemporary Chinese viewers. As pointed out by China Youthology,

From a youth insight perspective, the popularity of ‘Old Boys’ is no surprise. The story addresses two core tensions of youth in China now: the frustration in achieving the dominant dream of a middle-class life; and the frustration in achieving individual dreams. Many youth were moved to tears by the story.

China Smack also notes similar reactions of the viewers,

many people leaving [shed] tears over their youth, commending it as a rare example of a fine domestically-produced piece of work. The film has also spurred passionate discussion amongst netizens about one’s dreams.

Old Boys is available on Youtube. The lyrics of its theme song are also provided below:

I am deep in love with her, thinking of her day and night.

But how can I express myself?

And will she accept me?

Maybe I will never expose my hear to her.

For I am always wondering alone and homeless.

Dreams are always too far to reach.

Should I give up?

Flowers bloom and fade again.

When comes spring for me.
Youth is like a river,

rushing away without saying goodbye,

leaving me behind without the passion of the old days.

Look at those flowers in the sky

withering in their most beautiful moments,

who will remember that they ever existed in this world?
Many years have elapsed in a blink of the eye,

witnessing countless happiness and sorrows.

Once with much hope as well,

admiring the wild goose flying southward.
People go in different directions,

away and gone.

But where is my future within ordinary days?

Oh who can give me the answer?
Those who were with me,

where are you now?

Those I used to love,

how do you look like now?
Have your dreams come true?

Can we do else than mourning about the past?

I can’t stop the time and I can’t find my true self ever again.

A million stars are twinkling in the sky.

And I try to find out the one that used to stay by me.

Do you still remember me

we shared together here before?
Life is like a ruthless blade,

having changed us.

Will it wither before it ever has a chance to bloom?

I used to have my dream.
Youth is like a river,

rushing away without saying goodbye,

leaving me behind without the passion of the old days.

Look at those flowers in the sky

withering in their most beautiful moments,

who will remember that they ever existed in this world?
Have your dreams come true?

Can we do else than mourning about the past?

I can’t stop the time and I can’t find my true self ever again.

A million stars are twinkling in the sky.

And I try to find out the one that used to stay by me.

Do you still remember me

we shared together here before?
If tomorrow comes,

I will send my best to you my dearest.

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