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The Golden Rock - November 28, 2011 Edition



The Chinese title for Wen Hua-Tao’s LOVE IS NOT BLIND is 失戀33天, which literally means “Love-loss 33 Days”. Essentially, it refers to the period of heartbreak experienced by those who has just gotten out of a relationship. The so-called  失戀 period mostly ends when the person finds a new relationship. However, in the case of LOVE IS NOT BLIND, heroine Xiaoxian - who experiences “love-loss” when she catches her longtime boyfriend with her best friend - is simply trying to stop the pain and even find a shoulder to cry on with her effeminate metrosexual co-worker-turned-gay best friend, played by Wen Zhang.

Made for RMB 8.9 million, LOVE IS NOT BLIND has become a colossal hit in Mainland China, even outgrossing big-budget action blockbusters like SHAOLIN and THE LOST BLADESMAN. While the film itself has been well-received by the “post-80s” (those born in the 1980s) demographic in China, its success is also an example of what great marketing can do for a film.

Reputation: LOVE IS NOT BLIND is the 4th film by writer-director Teng Hua-Tao, whose film career has not exactly been remarkable (his last film was THE MATRIMONY, starring Leon Lai). Instead, he is better known for his television dramas DWELLING NARROWNESS and NAKED WEDDING, both hot topics in Chinese popular culture (especially among young women) when they were aired.

DWELLING, co-starring LOVE star Wen Zhang (OCEAN HEAVEN) deals with “housing slaves”, young people (usually urbanites) who end up being slave to their mortgages in a society dealing with high inflation (including in the real estate market), but it was mainly its plot line about an affair between one of the heroines and a corrupted government official that attracted so much controversy that SARFT stopped the airing of the drama and forced producers to re-edit the drama before putting it back on the air.

Meanwhile, NAKED WEDDING, starring AND co-written by Wen Zhang, deals with a post-80s who choose to get married out of love without the financial resource for material needs like a home or a car. The drama depicts a “naked wedding” couple whose marriage is broken up by family conflicts and their lack of material wealth. As the Wen Zhang character says in a pivotal scene, “our love was defeated by the small things”.

LOVE IS NOT BLIND deals with a far less serious subject - a girl getting over her heartbreak - but its popular original novel (written by a post-1985 female author in the form of a diary) and the reputation of the Teng-Wen team (some netizens are already dubbing them the next Feng Xiaogang-Ge You) all created a fair amount of anticipation before its release.

Issues: The idea of “love-loss”  may be a bigger deal among youths in more traditional societies (like Asian ones) than America, where the film that last truly dealt with the idea of heart-break was likely 500 DAYS OF SUMMER. The idea of a break-up being a major source of sorrow and sadness in one’s life is something that obviously connects with youths better than say, conservative middle-age people. In the film, Teng embraces how seriously his target audience takes “love-loss” by making the idea of getting over it his heroine’s ultimate goal.

Of course, just the idea of blowing up something as seemingly trivial as a break-up reflects the values of the film’s demographic. While there are politically and socially active “post-80s” in China, the majority of Chinese people in their 20s care about more personal issues like money, careers, their iPhones, and of course, their love lives. LOVE IS NOT BLIND embraces such values so well that not even one family member of the main characters ever appears on screen, and by zoning in so specifically on what this generation cares about, the film immediately connected to the biggest group of consumers of Chinese cinema right now - the youths.

Marketing: Some has already mentioned the release date being a key element, but the success of LOVE IS NOT BLIND’s marketing efforts extends further than that. According to an essay written by the film’s publicist on Weibo (which has NOT been refuted by any major players), in addition to picking “11-11″ singles day as its release date, the marketing team also recorded a series of interviews with young people around China. These interviews are all about these people’s “love-loss” experiences - the pain, the suffering, the crying, and even messages to their ex’s. Then, footage of mock-interviews featuring the film’s two main characters - Wang Xiaoxian (Bai Bai-He) and Wang Yi-Yang (Wen Zhang) - are also inserted. Before selling the film itself or the stars, the marketing team first sold the universality of its topic.

I don’t know when this particular video was released, but this is one of the “break-up interview” videos

Then, of course, came singles day. The film was made with the intention of being released around 11-11. In China, since the 11-11 resemble lone sticks standing on their own, it’s become a symbol for single people, and hence the beginning of “singles day”. Of course, no one is stupid enough to sell a movie about heartbreak on Valentine’s Day, so singles day is of course the best time.

By the way, why did the film open on November 8th instead of November 11th, you ask? In addition to the 8th being a Tuesday (so the film can gather positive word-of-mouth during the week to carry into the weekend), the 8th was also the birthday of Teng Hua-Tao’s father. Teng is one of the producers of the film, so he can do whatever he damn well pleases.

I’ll go more into the actual content of the film in my later review for the site, but all these factors have helped make LOVE IS NOT BLIND a super chick-flick hit in its home. At my screening, the film attracted mostly couples and groups of young girls who responded enthusiastically to the sharp verbal comedy, its tender observations about heartbroken young women, and even the brief digression into tearjerking melodrama. I might have been the only single man sitting by himself in that 300-seat auditorium, which tells you that LOVE IS NOT BLIND is not the cinematic experience equivalent of going to Yoshinoya alone in Japan - i.e. just for singles.

With the success of ETERNAL MOMENT, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, LOVE IS NOT BLIND, and even BUDDHA MOUNTAIN, the direction of the Chinese commercial film industry is starting to reflect Hollywood a little bit, where films that appeal to a younger audience tend to do better at the box office. Perhaps China becoming a global film industry player is not so far away after all.

Read an excerpt from the original novel here.

There’s no particular source for this entry, as a lot of it came from what I’ve learned over the years, as well as the article I read on Weibo. This article from entgroup pretty much sums things up, as well as attribute part of the film’s success to the use of micro-blogs. I cannot confirm whether that’s true or not, so I will not comment further.

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