Stars shine with a different shimmer

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-11-29 06:42:47

In recent years, Hollywood has been experimenting with cameo appearances by Chinese stars in its franchise movies. It is an obvious attempt to enlarge the common base, so to speak, so that Chinese filmgoers may find one more thing endearing to them. However, the reverse does not seem to work: Hollywood's big names in Chinese movies, such as Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War, failed to make a dent in the US market, despite Christian Bale's role.

Very often, the difficulty lies in which foreign or new elements might go over well with an overseas audience. Westerns with cowboys, despite their universal themes, tend to put off most Chinese film lovers. A space western, as Guardians of the Galaxy is sometimes called, has proved to be no barrier in China even though much of the humor is lost in translation. Romance as a genre should transcend boundaries better than most, but, of the hundreds of movies flowing into China, only a handful, such as Roman Holiday, achieved classic status in China.

There is something about Audrey Hepburn that piqued Chinese fascination just as she did in the rest of the world, but possibly for different reasons. Her beauty is not bound by geography or culture. To the Chinese eye, she is Western, yet not too Western. The way she looks in that movie is perfect by Chinese standards as well. Now imagine the role played by a typical supermodel with exceedingly long legs and striking facial features, and I can guarantee it would not go over well in the Middle Kingdom.

The Chinese standard for feminine beauty, like the Chinese selection of foreign films per se, has a built-in balance of the exotic and the familiar. Sophie Marceau, another favorite in China, has a faint touch of Asianness in her face and posture, or so many Chinese believe. And if such foreign stars make their entrance at the right moment, they may well capture the Chinese heart no matter what works they star in.

When I look around at the advertising images of multinational corporations, it's clear to me that many have not got the message of cultural balance. But that's a topic for another day.

The writer is editor-at-large of China Daily. Contact him at

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