Filmmaker He Jianjun didn't just sit around bemoaning China's pirate DVD problem - he made a film about it. But the resulting Pirated Copy isn't a simple denunciation of the illegal trade. It's a clever drama exploring how illegal DVDs have become a cultural phenomenon in China, affecting all levels of society. What's more, among all the social observations, he manages to tell some rattling good stories. He, who shot to fame as a leading light of China's independent 'Sixth Generation' with 1993's Red Beads and 1994's once-banned The Postman, builds a clever structure for Pirated Copy. He uses the fact that just about everybody in China buys illegal DVDs and VCDs to draw together some disparate storylines. Young students, middle-aged couples, gangsters, and university lecturers are just some of the people brought together by their love - or obsession - for DVD collecting. 'Pirate DVDs and VCDs are now omnipresent in Chinese life,' He says at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, where the film had its premiere. 'They are entrenched in every part of society. When I thought of making a film about this subject, I realised that just about everybody I know owned a lot of illegal discs. It wasn't just film people who collected them, either.' Film companies, of course, justifiably complain that pirate DVDs take money out of the pockets of legitimate distributors and filmmakers. He doesn't disagree. But also he thinks that, on a cultural rather than economic level, the illegal DVD phenomenon does have its good points. Chinese viewers have such a limited poll of legally released films to choose from, the DVDs fill a gap, he says. 'These illegal DVDs definitely enrich the daily lives of a lot of people on a lot of different levels,' he says. 'People develop their own favourite genres and styles of film. They will go to a vendor and say, I want to see some porn, or I am interested in crime films, or I want to watch some European art films. The availability of DVDs encourages diversity in people's tastes, and that's healthy.' He says film education is a case in point. One scene in Pirated Copy shows a teacher using an illegal copy of Pedro Almodovar's Atame! to illustrate a lecture about western filmmakers' treatment of sexuality. This really goes on, he says: 'Teachers have to resort to using pirate copies in the classroom, as the legal copies of many of these films aren't available. I think that this is a useful function of the illegal DVDs.' One the other side of the cultural divide, Pirated Copy shows that pornography is rampant. One fascinating scene shows some middle-aged buyers stocking up on pornography. They are very specific in their choices - some prefer American-style porn, others European. Considering that sex films are so new to China, consumers seem to know a lot about them. 'The way that people have quickly learned about the different types of pornography in China by watching illegal DVDs is a phenomenon in itself,' He chuckles. 'It's a unique Chinese thing. People are specific about what kind of porn they want to see, even though it hasn't been available for long.' The fact that everything from European art films to pornography is readily available to an eager Chinese public is having an effect on the domestic film industry, He says. He doesn't think that the exposure is necessarily influencing the work of young filmmakers. It's the tastes of the viewing public which are being altered. With so much variety available on illegal DVDs, who's interested in going to the cinema to watch China's own often staid and dull films? 'People watch pirated DVDs all the time,' He says. 'So when they go to cinemas to see legal fare, they don't like it. They think it's boring. So the pirates have influenced the film market. 'The whole thing shows that there is a need for a more diversified film market. The government should think about diversifying the film market, whether that be for DVDs or in the cinemas, at the same time as they go about suppressing these DVDs. I think it's impossible for this phenomenon to disappear completely. It will get smaller, for sure. Whereas there may be 100 people selling illegal DVDs in a city today, there may be just one in the future. But it's not just going to disappear completely.' As He shows in the film, everything is up for grabs in China, and the piracy problems extends into all fields, not just movies. The Government tends to focus on illegal DVDs as a cause celebre, perhaps because of international pressure. 'Because I am a filmmaker, I made a film about pirate DVDs,' he says. 'But a close friend of mine is a fashion designer, and there is a lot of piracy in that field, too. There are a lot of fake brands. You can find the same thing in every field.' He says that he doesn't think that any of his films have been pirated yet. Interestingly, his own film, The Postman, has helped to 'diversify' the Chinese market, as it recently got a legitimate release on DVD, a full 10 years after it was banned. He adds that he is not a supporter of piracy. He thinks that pirates will be all but extinct in a few years, and that's one reason that he wanted to document the phenomenon. 'In a couple of years, they will have suppressed pirated DVDs and VCDs,' he says. 'Then we will look back at that scene and wonder what all the fuss was about. 'I think it's an interesting social phenomenon, and I wanted my film to record it for posterity. In the future, I want people to watch my film and learn about why the DVD phenomenon came into existence, and what it meant to people.'