China’s coming-of-age drama Tiny Times raked in 73 million RMB ($11.9 million) at the box office when it opened on June 27, breaking the record for China’s first day performance.
Tiny Times was directed by writer-turned-filmmaker Guo Jingming and is based on Jingming’s trilogy of the same name. Set in a glamorous, metropolitan Shanghai and starring the young sensation, actress Yang Mi, the film follows the lives and friendships of four women as they navigate from high school to university to adulthood.
Despite its run-of-the-mill storyline and acting, the movie has managed to attract the young and curious like a magnet. Most moviegoers drawn to the film are either Guo’s hardcore female fans or post-90’s movie buffs who prefer to leaven their cinematic intake with a touch of optimism – often portrayed by a cast of young and popular stars. Guo’s film has also attracted members of the post-1980’s generation who are looking to reminisce on the their youth.
Tiny Times seems tailor-made for China’s changing market. According to the latest statistics from the China Film Distribution and Exhibition Association, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter, the average age of a moviegoer in the country has dropped from 25.7 in 2009 to 21.2 in 2012. While more white collar movie fans are moving online for their cinematic fill, the younger generation still treasures the movie theater experience.
This is reflected by online discussions as well. On Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging site, Tiny Times has been ensconced among the top ten trending topics since early last week.
Yet, profits and popularity do not equate to critical praise. Despite its commercial success, the movie has received an average rating of 2.5 out of 5 on Douban.com, a popular Chinese music and movie portal. Further, the materialistic and superficial lifestyle portrayed in the movie has triggered controversy online.
A comment made on Weibo by Chinese movie critic Zhou Liming has triggered debate. Zhou wrote that the “flaunting of wealth in the film has reached pathological levels.”
The film’s director Guo and his more than 20 million Weibo followers were unfazed by the criticism. Explaining he made the film for China’s “me generation”, the 30-year-old writer and filmmaker said, “These days it’s all about looking after myself – saying, ‘I want to enjoy life the way I like it…A film couldn’t satisfy everyone, and I have never wanted to make a film suited for both the old and the young.”
“It’s just a movie, movies are usually larger than life,” 23-year-old He Mengyu told The Diplomat. “I just want to watch something happy and fun.”
Zhang Ruiqiu, 27, added: “Who doesn’t want to have a shiny material life? The movie is encouraging: as long as we remain positive and strong, we will achieve what we want in life.”
This May, actress-turned-director Zhao Wei’s film So Young – based on the best-selling novel To Our Youth – also gained box-office success. Wei’s film was aimed at Chinese born in the 1970s and early 80s.
Whether these coming-of-age movies have any artistic value or significance is debatable, but one thing seems clear: China’s young audience prefers homegrown dramas they can relate to over Hollywood blockbusters – even if the stories depict a dramatic version of their real lives.