2011 Tudou Video Festival awards: The best of China's online films
The Goose ‘n’ Duck Ranch, tucked away in a quiet corner of Beijing’s suburban Huairou District, isn’t the most obvious spot to roll out the red carpet. But over the weekend, the decidedly un-hip getaway hosted some of China’s most cutting-edge online filmmakers for the fourth annual Tudou Video Festival.
The venue was chosen by Tudou.com’s founder, Gary Wang, precisely for its laid-back vibe.
We give a platform to artists, we support expression, and we both passionately believe in the power of storytelling.— Todd Luoto, Tudou Vido Festival judge for the Independent Spirit Award category
Tudou, a video sharing service similar to YouTube, has built a dedicated following among the mostly 20-something digital natives who comprise China’s rising creative class.
Organizers said it’s important to recognize the Tudou community’s creativity in an offline setting.
“It provides a chance for filmmakers to meet with investors,” said festival director Zhang Hanyu. “This is not going to happen online or through other channels.”
This year, the Tudou Video Festival presented a program of short films previously shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
Huairou might be a far cry from Park City, but Sundance's representative at the event, Todd Luoto, who helped judge the Independent Spirit Award category, said the parallels were striking.
“It was great to see that Tudou is doing a lot of the same things that the Sundance Film Festival is all about,” he said. “We give a platform to artists, we support expression, and we both passionately believe in the power of storytelling.”
Read on to see profiles of the night's big winners (with their video, of course) and then we give you the full run-down of all the people who took home a “red couch”.
Winner: Wang Zizhao (王子昭)
Tudou video: "大无畏" ("Fearless")
Categories: Golden Potato Award (Best Overall Film) and Best Performance Award
Ma Guang, the protagonist of director Wang Zizhao’s film “Fearless,” is a shy 25-year-old who has never been with a woman. When he visits a rural health clinic, even the country doctor scoffs that he’s made it so far into life as a virgin, taking the opportunity to lecture him on “how a 25-year-old should be,” explains Wang.
Chinese society doesn’t quite know what to make of late-bloomers like Ma, but they’re increasingly common: in some regions of China, 130 males are born for every 100 females.
Mainstream film ignores the elements that really grab the audience’s attention. They’re just concerned about the money part, and that’s not sustainable.— Wang Zizhao, Tudou Video Festival award winner
The film has struck a cord with China’s netizens, with nearly half a million views on Tudou.
Commenters sympathize with Ma’s predicament and what director Wang Zizhao, 23, calls his “perseverance despite all the obstacles in his way.”
Despite the high cinematic production values and nuanced performances in his film, Wang spurns big-budget Chinese cinema, instead preferring to draw inspiration directly from other online directors.
"Mainstream film ignores the elements that really grab the audience’s attention,” he explains. “They’re just concerned about the money part, and that’s not sustainable.”
In January, the Beijing Film Academy graduate joined five other emerging filmmakers under the direction of famed auteur Jia Zhangke to create a series called “Words of a Journey,” telling the story of 12 Chinese pioneers in business and the arts.
Sponsored by the whiskey brand Johnnie Walker, the series reflected the increasing embrace of digital media by brands trying to reach China’s young urban trendsetters.
Despite all the recognition, Wang still doesn’t think of himself as a professional director. His parents haven’t even seen “Fearless.”
Like many traditional Chinese people, Wang said, his parents consider filmmaking to be a low-status activity, “but tonight should hopefully change their minds.”
Winner: babymavis (卑鄙马维斯)
Tudou video: "魔怔世界4" ("World of Terror 4")
Category: Best Gaming Film Award
babymavis has been submitting films to the Tudou Awards since 2009, but this year was the first time he nabbed a “red couch” (the statuettes refer to the name “Tudou,” which in Chinese is a joking reference to “couch potatoes”).
Like many of the filmmakers in attendance, babymavis pursues film strictly as a hobby.
I want to show that online gamers are fascinated by their virtual worlds in the same way that children are fascinated by their toys.— babymavis, Tudou Video Festival award winner
“I work as a computer programmer,” he says. “My occupation is not at all related to the movie industry.”
“World of Terror 4” is a live-action take on “machinima,” an online video genre that is thriving in China. Machinima films take their graphics from real-time renderings of online video games like World of Warcraft, with the bulk of the plot usually supplied by dubbed voiceovers.
For his film, babymavis has retained some of the visual cues of machinima, while substituting live actors and casting himself in the main role of San Jidao, a troublemaker who runs around a park exploiting everyone he meets.
Last year’s top Tudou festival award went to “War of Internet Addiction,” an hour-long machinima film that criticized the Chinese government’s censorship of the Internet.
babymavis, however, is only trying to entertain, he says. "I want to show that online gamers are fascinated by their virtual worlds in the same way that children are fascinated by their toys," he says. “The passion is the same."
Tudou video: "西游记：旅程的终点" ("Journey to the West: Journey’s End")
Category: Golden Lens: Best Spirit of Entertainment Award
The online video group CuCn201 formed when four friends at Communication University of China Nanjing needed a project.
“We were going to graduate, and didn’t have much to do, so we just wanted to do something funny,” explains member Onelove, 24, originally from Xinjiang.
We were going to graduate, and didn’t have much to do, so we just wanted to do something funny.— Onelove, member of Tudou Video Awards group CuCn201M
“The original purpose wasn’t to be famous, but just to have fun online,” Onelove continues.
CuCn201’s winning film is a “fandub” of an episode of the popular Japanese anime series "Gag Manga Biyori." It intercuts the original anime footage with the group’s own added dialogue.
The video became a sensation last fall when Internet users latched onto its use of a new Chinese slang term, "geili." In Chinese, the word literally means giving or possessing strength, but its usage is closer to “cool.”
Last November, a Chinese microblog user decided to translate geili’s antonym into English as “ungelivable.” The word exploded so quickly onto the Chinese web that even word nerd Ben Schott of the New York Times wrote about it on his vocabulary blog.
At the Tudou Awards, the group looked like they might have just taken a break from their dorm-room Xbox, dressed in assorted T-shirts and soccer jerseys. But their work is so popular in China that it even has its own online forum, at cucn201.com, with nearly 50,000 members.
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Despite the apparent success, the group’s members swear that making films is only a hobby. For now, says NG Xiong Wang, 23, it’s enough that “many people can find our works online and they love it.”
Winner: showjoy (叫兽)
Tudou video: "战争背后的真相" ("The Truth Behind the War")
Category: Golden Bean Award
Director showjoy, 27, is a construction engineer from Hunan province who started making videos in his spare time.
“The Truth Behind the War” is his response to last fall’s dispute between two Chinese Internet giants, the anti-virus company 360 and the popular messaging software company QQ. The companies were variously accused of monopolistic practices and failing to respect users’ privacy.
I’m really angry, because they’re out to protect their own interests.— showjoy, Tudou Video Festival Award winner
showjoy’s film depicts executives from both companies as cartoon-ish villains who plot their petty revenge, while a hapless Internet user is caught in the middle as popup windows crowd his computer screen.
“I’m really angry, because they’re out to protect their own interests,” says showjoy, referring to 360 and QQ. “They impose their interests on Internet users.”
In addition to his films, showjoy maintains a Sina blog that has received more than 27 million views to date, as well as a microblog.
Upcoming projects include a planned series of what showjoy calls “micro-movies,” but he doesn’t seem particularly fazed by the challenges of maintaining his engineering career while juggling so many projects.
“There are many people in China today who work for organizations and they also make movies on the side,” he says. "
Sexy Corn (性感玉米)
Tudou video: "红推会"
Category: Video Premiere Award
The video producer Sexy Corn, winner of last year’s best video award, never shies away from controversy. Last year, his film “War of Internet Addiction” took aim at the Chinese government for its censorship of the Internet, but this year his ire has a new target: the manufactured, viral “celebrities” who monopolize China’s online conversation for personal gain.
In China, the Internet is a precious platform for Chinese people to express their ideas freely.— Sexy Corn, Tudou Video Festival Award winner
The film opens with a would-be online star performing a shadowy, cult-ish ritual in front of a back-lit poster for last year’s hit film "The Social Network."
“China has a lot of Internet stars who are fake users,” says the 27-year-old. “They will try to make themselves popular by using information online, but this information is fake.”
Each month seems to bring a new crop of Internet celebrities in China; last October, for example, a series of video clips centered on a crass, obnoxious woman called Xiao Yueyue turned out to be a publicity stunt for Tianya, a popular Chinese Internet portal.
“In China, the Internet is a precious platform for Chinese people to express their ideas freely,” says Sexy Corn, dodging festive balloons that fell from the ceiling at the ceremony came to a close.
“Internet users can be influenced very easily," he continues, "so if fake users can do whatever they want, they will control ideas online.”
More 2011 Tudou Film Festival video winners
Golden Seed Award
Tudou video: "HOT HIT"
Winner: Jia Congjing (荆丛嘉)
When a thirsty cop leaves a criminal suspect in his stalled squad car, the stage is set for this tale of police incompetence and swapped identities.
Independent Spirit Award
Tudou video: “潮逐浪” ("Sea and Tide")
A man and a woman reconnect at a seaport after 10 years, but each holds a secret.
Todd Luoto of the Sundance Festival, who helped select the winner, praised the film’s “beautiful cinematography and excellent performances.”
Golden Lens: Best Autobiographical Film Award
Tudou video: “MicA 求婚” ("MicA Proposes")
Vignettes from the director’s real-life blossoming romance, which culminate in an elaborate marriage proposal.
Golden Lens Award
Tudou video: “再见，我的爱人” ("Goodbye, My Love")
Winner: Crystal Butterfly (水晶蝶乐队)
“Goodbye, My Love” is a stirring black-and-white tribute to the victims of last November’s Shanghai apartment fire.
Most Creative Short Film Award
Tudou video: “每个外星人都有一张人类的脸” ("Every Alien Has a Human Face")
Winner: Mu Wuqin 木·无秦
A man tries to escape his extraterrestrial doppelganger in this bite-sized action flick.