Forget Zach Snyder's "Man of Steel" or Keanu Reeves' "Man of Tai Chi." China's movie of the summer is a chick flick that has touched off a mini-culture war while raking in the renminbi -- and a sequel is just weeks away.
"Tiny Times" tells the story of four fashionable college girls in Shanghai and is perhaps best described as "The Devil Wears Prada" meets "Sex and the City" (minus the sex) with a dash of "The Bling Ring." The movie is based on a trio of popular young adult novels by Guo Jingming, a waifish 30-year-old celebrity author/entrepreneur who also directed the film.
Guo's fans say he's the voice of a new material-minded generation, but many critics have savaged "Tiny Times" as a vacuous homage to consumerism that sets a bad example for Chinese youth. In a country grappling
with a yawning wealth gap and the striking emergence of a sometimes crass class of nouveau riche, the film has touched a deep nerve about the values of Chinese society.
"I have seen 6,000 or 7,000 movies, and this is one of the few that I hate. I was aghast at it," Raymond Zhou, a well-known critic said in an interview. Reviewing it for the Beijing News, he called it "totally intolerable" and said its promotion of materialism was far worse than advertising in luxury magazines.
The sequel, which was filmed at the same time as "Tiny Times," was originally set for release in December. But the distributor, Le Vision Pictures, has moved up the release date to Aug. 9 to capitalize on the movie's popularity -- and the heated debate surrounding it.
Although some of the four main characters supposedly come from families of modest means, they live in a posh apartment and flaunt their Gucci, Dior and Louis Vuitton possessions. One lands a job as assistant to the suave director of a Vogue-like magazine called "M.E.," who is chauffeured around in a Bentley; she struggles to attend to his every whim
(and his collection of crystal drinking glasses) as she helps him plan a fashion show.
One of the young women proclaims: "Love without materialism is just a pile of sand" and rejects her wealthy but anti-consumerist boyfriend as a naïve moron.
"The movie is instigating
the kind of money-worship that will bring up a generation of gold diggers," Zhou said. "Ordinary people can only attain this level of wealth by becoming mistresses to the wealthy."
Ren Shanshan, a writer for the Guangdong Daily, commented: "No matter how the box office is thriving, 'Tiny Times' is a mishap
by any pure artistic standard: its story lines are incomplete; its characters are flat and simplistic; life is unreal and soft-filtered." Borrowing a line from "Lust, Caution" author Eileen Chang, Ren added: "The whole film is just like 'a luxuriant gown covered with lice.'"
Guo and his legions of teen and twentysomething fans have hit back, saying critics are fuddy-duddies who are out of touch with China's "post-90s generation." This group came of age as the nation's consumer culture was taking off.
"Materialism is something we face every day now, and it is not dirty," Guo told the state-run China Daily newspaper. He and his defenders say the film actually focuses on the "power of friendship" and the compromises and struggles of young people in a materialistic world.
The image-conscious, media-savvy Guo is a polarizing figure who runs his own publishing company and isn't shy about making a show of his wardrobe and fashionable Shanghai home. But after critics began savaging "Tiny Times," he received a surprising amount of support from prominent state-run media outlets.
Zhang Zhao, chief executive of Le Vision Pictures, a 2-year-old film branch of the online portal Le TV, which is distributing the film, said he wasn't bothered by the war of words. He attributed some of the criticism to established film industry figures who feel threatened by the success of a "young amateur" such as Guo.
"This war is very emotional," Zhang said. "Parents are worried their kids will follow this example. And ... A-class filmmakers are saying, 'with movies like this succeeding, I don't know how to make a film anymore.'"
Females made up 85% of the audience for "Tiny Times," with most ages 15 to 25. "This is a student-oriented film, so we thought we would get the sequel into theaters before they go back to school," explained Zhang, adding that a third and fourth film are in development.
Still, with the sequel now just weeks away, some are questioning whether it's too much, too soon. An opinion article by journalist Liu Qiong in Monday's People's Daily was shared more than 60 million times on Weibo.
"If we bombard our eyes and ears only with 'Tiny Times,'" she wrote, "materialism and consumerism will rule the society."
电影《小时代》热映 郭敬明讲述青春梦想的故事（出自 Hollywood Reporter《好莱坞报道》）
美媒评《小时代》：低俗、炫富和男权（出自 The Atlantic 《大西洋月刊》）