China's film directors ramping up ‘cli-fi’ movies for climate-anxious audiences
by staff writer and agencies
TAIWAN/UK/CHINA -- In a recent news article on the British NGO non-profit website "China Dialogue," Beijing correspondent Mr. Da-min Tang wrote a story in English and Chinese headlined "Is China Getting the 'Cli-Fi' It Needs?" His answer was not yet, but hopefully soon. Read on.
''If seeing is believing, Chinese filmmakers have a role in bringing home the reality of climate change," Tang opined.
''As China has emerged as a global power playing an active role in international affairs,'' Tang noted, ''its filmmakers been ignoring a subject where China is emerging as a leader on the global stage, that is, on climate change.''
While it's hard to know if there are many Chinese fans of “cli-fi” movies -- those rare films that take climate change as their subject matter, there have been growing references to China in Hollywood films with climate themes.
Tang mentioned, as one example, the 2017 cli-fi blockbuster ''Geostorm,'' which did well at the Chinese box office but nevertheless had poor reviews.
Tang also cited one of the best known Hollywood cli-fi movies so far, ''2012,'' which had plot elements that involved China more prominently. As the China Dialogue bilingual website put it: "As huge floods threaten humanity’s future, China’s factories come to the rescue, working day and night to produce high-tech floating arks before the waters rise."
Historically, Tang added, "climate change has not lent itself easily to films outside of documentaries, or effects-driven disaster movies like 'The Day After Tomorrow,' meaning there are few cli-fi examples in [Communist Red] China's film industry. And it isn't hard to understand why China’s climate leadership [has failed so far] to make it into the scripts of American films."
"If Chinese filmmakers are failing to acknowledge China’s role, how then can Hollywood be expected to?" Tang asked.
In Tang's opinion, expressed in his online article in both English and Chinese, Chinese cinema has done even less than Hollywood to reflect Communist Red China's important international role in tackling climate change.
"In fact, 18 years into this century, there has not been one notable film that deals with the topic, although there are quite a few good films that look at the human and environmental costs of China’s rapid development," he said.
Here is where Tang hits the nail on the head: "Given the rich tradition of cinematic realism in China, there is a great opportunity to tell the story of China’s rise through the exploration of subject matter that is much closer to reality [and] an obvious area is climate action, for which China is making global headlines, with its surge of renewable power and electric vehicle revolution.''
China produced a cli-fi movie back in 1990, Tang noted. It was titled "Disappearing Atmosphere," and it more or less ''looked like a children's movie, complete with talking cats, dogs and horses.'' But the story-line was an adult one, Tang insisted.
The synopsis of the 1990 movie tells it all: ''When thieves unwittingly release a gas that destroys the ozone layer, animals help a young boy find the source of the problem. A dog sacrifices itself to eliminate the harmful gas. Ultimately, scientists, children and animals work together to save the planet.''
That's China, that's ''cli-fi.''
The end credits at the conclusion of the movie in theaters, Tang noted, included "a long and dull list of pollution statistics, with a clear message: we might have been saved from disaster this time, but China must face up to ongoing environmental degradation.''
"In the 95 minutes of he film, two species became extinct and 2,000 hectares of forest disappeared.” Tang added.
And here's the money graf: "The movie featured crude special effects and some of the plot arrangements are debatable, but it carried a strong moral message. And in 1990 there was no rapidly expanding solar power sector to discuss, the Communist Chinese 'Ministry of Environmental Protection' wouldn’t be established for another 18 years, and Chinese coal consumption wouldn’t plateau for another 23 years."
So where are all the cli-fi movies in China?
"A modern Chinese cli-fi film would help people understand the urgency of this threat to all humanity, and prompt them to take a look at the impacts of their own lifestyles," Tang shared, adding his last sentence as a wake-up call
"As for how to make that into a gripping story -- well, that’s up to China’s movie makers," Tang wrote.