- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

SHANGHAI — Global blockbuster movie "The Lord of the Rings" opened at cinemas around China on Saturday, but some fear the world of hobbits, elves and orcs proved a confusing one for the country's population.
Shanghai shop owner Wu Lei bought a copy of the film on a three-disc pirated video compact disc (VCD) set, put in one of the discs and sat down to watch.
"I sat through a full hour of the film before I realized that I was watching the last hour of the picture and not the first. You could watch the discs in any order and you still wouldn't have a clue what was happening," he said.
Mr. Wu's story highlights the two biggest problems the distributors face if the first installment of the film trilogy is to repeat its global success in China rampant piracy and, to many Chinese, a deeply confusing plot.
The fantasy flick peopled with hobbits, ringwraiths, elves and sorcerers is the stuff of childhood memories for many in the West, and Middle-Earth a land they grew up with through J.R.R. Tolkien's original books.
Not so in China. Until recently, few people had heard of the published trilogy, which was retranslated into Chinese last year to pave the way for the film's release.
"Western people in their 30s read it as children? Really. I thought it was a new thing that just came out last year," said Luo Mei, a 28-year office worker.
Miss Luo said she also watched "The Lord of the Rings" on pirated discs, but had problems following a three-hour plot that even Western critics admit is densely packed with narrative and characters.
"There were so many wizards and strange people, and I kept losing track of who was who. And I thought the language was awkward," she said.
J.R.R. Tolkein's baroque fantasy incorporated two invented Elven languages and numerous lines of verse, not the easiest to translate.
Even the most famous lines of verse from the book: "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them," come out sounding stilted and strange in Chinese.
And while Western audiences have long been fed a diet of kung fu films, a foundation for the success of the Chinese-language blockbuster "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" overseas, few Chinese people would recognize an elf or orc if one stood behind them in the movie theater queue.
Pirated copies of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings," the film's full title, have been on sale for months at only 10 yuan ($1.20), less than a film ticket. In Beijing, distributors are giving away free "magic rings" with cinema tickets as a way of luring viewers from their DVD machines and into the cinema.
However, there is still hope that "Lord of the Rings" could replicate the success of "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone," which packed theaters during its release earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the translated book trilogy is selling well, making the Top Ten list of literature best sellers at the Shanghai Book Center, said the center's marketing director, Jiang Li.
"We began stocking the Chinese version of 'The Lord of the Rings' over the Chinese Spring Festival [in February]. At first it did not sell very well, but with the publicity of the movie, more and more people are buying it and we are selling about 30 sets a day," he said.


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