BEIJING – "2012" is No. 1 at the Chinese box office for many of the same reasons that it has been a smash hit in America. Apparently, spectacular special effects hold the same appeal on both sides of the Pacific.
The movie has already taken in $450 million worldwide, about $108 million since opening in the US 10 days ago, according to Box Office Mojo. (Dare one say that mass-market movie mindlessness is a global phenomenon?)
But the buzz in Beijing has a slightly different edge to it. For the first time that anyone can remember, a Hollywood blockbuster has cast the Chinese as good guys. (The giant arks that will save humanity from an end-of-days catastrophe are Made in China.)
The idea that China will save the world from its economic woes is one that has been batted around by economists for some time now.
But this positive image of China is new to the silver screen, and it clearly flatters a lot of Chinese moviegoers. It also pleased the censors, who allow only 20 foreign films a year to be shown here. “2012” is being shown uncut, unlike "Mission Impossible III," for example, whose distributors had to delete scenes portraying Chinese bad guys.
Still, suspicion of US intentions runs deep in some quarters here. Cynics are suggesting that director Roland Emmerich had the Chinese box office take in mind when he co-wrote the script.
That doesn’t sound too plausible: China may have 1.3 billion people, and one day more of them may go to the movies, but box office revenue was still 15 times smaller in China than in America last year.
Other critics make a more subtle point.
“Leave it to the Chinese,” he exclaims. “I didn’t think it was possible, not in the time we had.”
That is possibly the commonest reaction Westerners have when they visit the real China, and witness the speed at which bridges, apartment blocks, and power stations are built here.
In fact, the film simply reinforces standard Western stereotypes of the Chinese. “The Chinese people in 2012 are still the same as now,” complains a post on the Mop web portal, signed “Crazy God.” “They are laborers.”