'Shallow' Chinese movie Tiny Times rouses critics and fans of writer Guo Jingming
When China’s richest writer Guo Jingming released his debut film, Tiny Times, he managed to provoke two extreme reactions.
On one hand, the film smashed box-office records by pulling in 360 million yuan (HK$450 million) in the week after its opening on June 27.
But on the other hand, Tiny Times was panned by mainstream film critics, who blasted the film for its shallow and materialistic script, arguing that it could corrupt young Chinese people with its “twisted value of worshipping money”.
Even the 30-year-old director’s diminutive 1.5-metre height has come in for ridicule and sarcasm.
Popular film critic Zhou Liming commented: “Tiny Times reflects ‘undisguised desire’.” He called the setting of Guo's film "ugly": the main character only had a voice in China when he had become wealthy and was living in a magnificent glass house in downtown Shanghai, draped in Fendi carpets and Hermes blankets. A drinking cup was featured that cost 3,800 yuan.
The film follows four college girls who have been best friends since high school. One girl, the assistant of an ill-tempered editor-in-chief of a famed fashion magazine, is helped by her friends in facing challenges at work while they support one another’s dreams and pursuits of love.
The film’s storyline is reminiscent of the American TV series Gossip Girl and the film The Devil Wears Prada for its depiction of office politics, the lifestyle of the rich and arrogant, and its overarching theme of the struggle for success, love and friendship.
Ignoring the critics, millions of Guo’s fans swarmed into cinemas in robust defence of their idol. Guo’s works, including The City of Fantasies and the Tiny Times series, feature matinee idol-like characters who are extremely good-looking, talented and rich.
The tales of love between “beautiful girls and handsome boys” in an upper-class setting resonate with his post-80s generation of fans, who are also drawn to the story Guo tells of the journey his central characters make “from nobody to somebody”.
Guo himself is self-made. He comes from a small town in southwest China, with parents in modest-income jobs, and has what has been described as a rather plain appearance.
But his talent is in no doubt. As a teenager he won numerous national literature prizes, and established his career in his 20s by publishing his first novel The City of Fantasies, which went on to sell 1.5 million copies. He climbed onto Forbes’ Rich Chinese list last year with a record annual income exceeding 27.6 million yuan.
His success also goes beyond writing; he has established himself in the publishing business with the i5land magazines series, ZUI novels and comics, and has signed and promoted dozens of young writers since 2006.
Meanwhile, Guo’s current luxurious lifestyle of living in a villa and wearing designer clothes has received criticism. His response is simple: “I made my dream come true. Everyone can realise their dreams, too.”
Blogger Han Song commented that fans of the film appreciate it for depicting individual dreams, rather than setting it in a broader context featuring national or historical issues such as the cultural revolutions in China.
Many critics of the film are the 1960s and 70s generations who are more concerned with issues of social imbalance and corruption issues. To them, Tiny Times is too insignificant, selfish and personal.
But the post-80s generation is different. For the most part, they don’t carry the baggage of the “Chinese dream” and social responsibilities. They would rather live their own lives like the rest of the world.
This explains the reaction of Guo's fans to the film, who adore the beauty of its stars, the fancy camerawork, the romantic storylines and dreamlike scenes.
However, they are still touched by the main character’s heart-wrenching monologue, penned by Guo, at the end of the film:
“We live in the vastness of the universe, where cosmic dust and galaxy light dust float in the sky. We are even more insignificant there than in the present time. You do not know at what time when life suddenly changes direction, falling into the darkness, thicker than ink. You have been dragged into a profound disappointment, you are pulling into grave by illness, you are mercilessly trampled by frustration, you are mocked, ridiculed, being hated, resented, and abandoned. But we always keep at heart with hope, and retain willingness not to give up the beating heart. We are still working with little steps in great despair. This mood which never gonna give up, becomes little stars in boundless darkness. We are all little stars.”