China’s bold film director shouts at Wanda Cinemas: I Am Not Madame Bovary, do not cheat on me

Feng Xiaogang, who is described by Newsweek as “China’s Spielberg”, on Friday posted on Weibo, accusing Wanda Cinemas, China’s largest cinema chain, of unfairly cutting the screening times of his latest film I Am Not Madame Bovary. The post sparked heated online discussion of the grudge between the two companies.

What’s the buzz about the film

Feng is successful in two seemingly contradictory categories of film – one is the down-to-earth films that do consistently well in the box office, the other is serious social history films, exemplified by the award-winning film Aftershock, which is about the devastating earthquake that happened in 1976 in the coastal Chinese city of Tangshan.

Feng Xiaogang 
Feng Xiaogang

His recent film I Am Not Madame Bovary falls into the center of this dispute. The film told the story of a rural woman’s relentless appeals for justice. Presented in experimental and round film frames instead of traditional square frames, the film received awards in international film festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain.

I Am Not Madame Bovary.
I Am Not Madame Bovary.

Still, China’s largest cinema chain by revenue, Wanda Cinemas, reacted not so positively to the hype surrounding the film I Am Not Madame Bovary.

Wanda Cinemas is a big player, and not just in the world of films: it is the cinema arm of China’s largest real estate developer, Wanda Group. In its worldwide expansion, Wanda Cinemas in 2012 acquired the movie theater chain AMC Entertainment in the United States.

Wars on Weibo

In the Weibo post, Feng mimicked the tone of of the female character in his film and claimed Wanda Cinemas was exacting revenge on him by reducing the playing sessions of I Am Not Madame Bovary.

“As a delicate woman, I’ve heard about the epic of Wanda chairman’s global achievement, not only becoming a monopoly in China but also likely to conquer
Hollywood. …Such a great empire can not tolerate a humble, small company named Huayi to dig a corner of your massive land.”

Feng’s film I Am Not Madame Bovary takes up about 12.2% of all films played by Wanda Cinemas, lower than other cinemas, according to China’s leading online movie ticket buying platform, Maoyan Movie.

The grudge between Wanda Cinemas, and China’s leading entertainment company, Huayi Brothers – where Feng works, and in which Feng holds shares – is believed to have started from an executive jumping ship from one company to the other. Ye Ning was the head of Wanda Cinemas before he resigned from the post earlier this year and took the position of CEO at Huayi Brothers Pictures.

Shortly after Feng expressed his resentment on Weibo on Friday, Wang Sicong, a web celebrity and son of Wanda Group’s chairman, Wang Jianlin, responded. He said that Wanda had had a non-compete agreement with Ye when he left and joined Huayi. He also said that Wanda is not positive that Feng’s film would be popular and that they therefore didn’t play much of it.

After the weibo clash, Wanda didn’t increase the playing time of Feng’s films in its cinemas.

Screenshot of Feng‘s post on Weibo.
Screenshot of Feng Xiaogang‘s post on Weibo.
Screenshot of Wang Sicong's post on Weibo.
Screenshot of Wang Sicong’s post on Weibo.

What netizens said

Feng, although claiming himself to be the victim, failed to win much support on the internet.

The topic sparked 88,000 comments on Weibo. Seven out of the 10 most upvoted comments said they supported Wanda Group. They blamed Feng for his alleged interference that resulted in postponing the release of another widely awaited film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which was scheduled to be released on the same day, alongside Feng’s film, but was then postponed by one week, to November 25.

Feng has denied that his film has anything to do with the postponing of other films.

(Photos from Baidu Images)

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