One of the biggest – and already one of the most controversial – films of the year from China opens to Western and Middle Eastern audiences next week, with critics already dismissing it as Communist propaganda.
But De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) academic Dr Hiu Man Chan says people would be better to ignore any media backlash and see the film 1921 as a way to better understand China’s standing in world politics.
She said: "I think film plays an important role to open up dialogues and different perspectives. Rather than ignoring China altogether or rely entirely on what the media reports, film can be a more engaging way to inspire our critical thinking.”
Dr Chan, a lecturer in creative and cultural industries at DMU’s Leicester Castle Business School, also runs her own film company. The non-profit organisation focusses on raising funds for film collaborations and support for Chinese films in the UK, as well as creating opportunities for UK film businesses in China. Recently, the organisation has expanded its interest to the Middle East.
This role has led Dr Chan, who specialises in international film business and relations, to co-organise the premiere of the 1921 period drama in Dubai on July 6 before it opens in UK cinemas on July 9.
While in Dubai, Dr Chan will also be visiting the site of a new DMU Dubai campus which is due to open later this year, and talk to prospective students about 'personal branding'.
The film 1921 was developed as a tribute to China’s ruling Communist Party to mark the 100th anniversary of its founding and re-enacts the story of the Party’s early years, centring on the revolution in Shanghai around the year 1921.
Despite going through censors to ensure it does not send out the wrong political message, American entertainment bible Variety has reported some Chinese patriots are critical of the film for being overly commercial and for disrespecting the revolutionary heroes it depicts.
Patriots are also unhappy that it has more than 100 Chinese celebrities lending their fame to attract a younger audience, including X Factor-style pop stars.
The film is also expected to draw criticism from Western media for being a propaganda exercise.
Dr Chan, who is travelling to Dubai next week to oversee the Middle East premiere, says people could perhaps see the film themselves to better understand China and its politics, rather than relying on media criticism to inform their views.
Dr Chan, who was raised in Hong Kong and has studied in the UK since she was 18, said: “Controversy is always a new energy. I think this film will give people the opportunity to understand the mentality of the Chinese government, where they have come from and why they are the way they are.
“Young intellectuals in Shanghai started the revolution, because the city was semi-colonised and occupied by different foreign countries with their own rules, including the British Empire.
“People can also look at this and ask whether the government continued the momentum from 1921. 100 years on, where is the country now in the post-colonial era?
“It is without doubt one of the most anticipated films and one of the biggest releases of the year in China. I think it is definitely a film that will create debate especially when you see how China is talked about in the Western media. This is an opportunity to participate in that debate
“Of course, a lot of people will dismiss the film as propaganda and an attempt to brain wash.
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“I am not saying people should definitely see it – that is up to them - but people who are curious and want to understand more about China would benefit from watching it. It will certainly act as a reference point in a larger debate about the relation between any state and its people.
“I think film plays an important role to open up dialogues and different perspectives. Rather than ignoring China altogether or rely entirely on what the media reports, film can be a more engaging way to inspire our critical thinking.”
While in Dubai, Dr Chan will also be visiting the site of a new DMU Dubai campus which is due to open later this year.
While on campus on July 8, she will give a talk to prospective students about “personal branding”. On the same day, she will also participate in a post-screening Q&A event with Selim El-Azar, CEO from Phars Film, a leading film distributor in the Gulf region, Dr Chan's collaborator and the local distributor for 1921.
Earlier this week, one of the top UK Government officials in Dubai welcomed DMU’s plan for its new campus.
Simon Penney, Her Majesty’s Consul General for Dubai and the Northern Emirates, said he was pleased DMU would offer “academic excellence” from DMU Dubai, the university’s new branch campus, set to open in Dubai Academic International City in September.
As Consul General, Mr Penney leads the government’s work promoting UK economic, commercial, political and consular interests in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
Along with recognizing the new campus, Mr Penney also acknowledged DMU’s upcoming role at the international event Expo 2020, being held over six months in Dubai from this October.
The UK pavilion at Expo 2020 is being operated by the Government’s Department of International Trade (DIT) and DMU is working closely with the team as one of the pavilion’s only official founding partners.
Over the many weeks of the festival, DMU will exhibit much of its leading research in areas like sustainable fashion, smart reuse of waste plastics and creative applications for artificial intelligence.
Posted on Thursday 1st July 2021