If there is one bold statement of a resurgence in 'red culture', it is the blockbuster Beginning of the Great Revival, aimed at drumming up support for the Communist Party on its 90th anniversary.
A celebration of the party's origins from 1911 to 1921, the film highlights the May 4 Movement. It stars well-known actors Chow Yun-fat as Yuan Shikai, the warlord who was emperor for 21/2 months, and Andy Lau Tak-wah as revolutionary leader Cai E.
Distributors Emperor Motion Pictures said the film had grossed about HK$3 million in the first week since its release last Thursday, although it could not topple Hollywood superhero flick The Green Lantern.
As a propaganda film, whether or not it's worth the hype is up for debate. 'It's certainly not art, but as entertainment it works,' cultural critic Perry Lam Pui-li said. 'The Chinese government is trying to perfect its means of control using mass entertainment for propaganda. It tries to appeal to the younger generation who may or may not be familiar with that period of the [party's] history.'
Emilie Yeh Yueh-yu, director of the Centre for Media and Communication Research at Baptist University, said 'red' influences were growing in film and on television.
Revival covers plenty of ground in two hours, zipping through 10 years of history, fitting in more than 100 stars and welding together a love story, action thriller and war movie.
Most mainland shows tell stories set in pre-1949 days, an era that can be painted more easily as corrupt, decadent and brutal. Ironically, Revival portrays the 1910s as better in some aspects, as the press could speak against the government, lively debate about political ideology takes place at universities, and students could actually demonstrate on the streets, as they did on May 4, 1919.
From the view of production values, Lam said, the film did not break new ground. 'The Birth of a Nation [a 1915 US film glorifying white supremacists] was propaganda but its techniques were revolutionary,' he said. 'You cannot say the same for this movie. As far as techniques are concerned, it's very conservative, very mainstream. It's difficult to imagine that the film would have an impact on the young audience of China.'