- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

BEIJING | Moviegoers in China have flocked to see the big-budget Hollywood disaster film “2012,” in which their country saves part of mankind from the apocalypse.

Directed by Roland Emmerich — known for mega-action hits such as “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” — the film has grossed more than $66 million since its mid-November release.

That places it in the top spot on China’s 2009 box-office hit list, ahead of “Transformers 2” and the patriotic Chinese film “Founding of a Republic,” industry officials say.

In the film, which sees a host of geological and astrological catastrophes befall Earth on Dec. 21, 2012, the Chinese build giant modern versions of Noah’s Ark in the mountains of Tibet to save at least some of humanity.

The movie, which centers on an ancient Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012, has been summarized by many viewers in four simple words: “China Saves the World.”

Some say the celluloid China-as-savior theme has boosted ticket sales among a vast cross section of the general public, fiercely proud of the country’s mounting global diplomatic and economic clout in the real world.

“For sure, the ‘China factor’ has played an important part in the film’s success,” says Li Chow, Sony Pictures Releasing International’s general manager for China.

“This ‘China factor’ fills the hearts of the Chinese with ease,” notes Li Yu of the Chinese Center for Cinema Research.

“2012” smashes stereotypes, beginning with the early-20th-century evil genius Fu Manchu — first featured in a series of British novels but later used to inspire a host of criminal film characters.

In more recent years, China has been depicted as inherently corrupt — as in 1997’s “Red Corner,” starring Richard Gere as a U.S. lawyer framed for murder — or repressive, as in 1997’s “Kundun,” a pro-Tibet account of the life of the Dalai Lama.

“2012, however, depicts a positive China — the ‘Made in China’ Noah’s Ark-style boats are a symbol of the country’s rising power in the manufacturing sector,” Li Yu says.

Other observers, including John Solomon, the director of enoVate, a youth-focused strategy firm based in Shanghai, see the film as a possible catalyst for environmental activism amid dire predictions about the impact of global warming.

“Chinese youth can actually see the poor environmental conditions in their country, and they are willing to take action to combat this. The film ‘2012’ may represent the tipping point for youth to take sincere action,” Mr. Solomon says.

Some say the change in attitude toward China reflected in the film is just good business, with studios keen to woo hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers, even if just 20 foreign films hit Chinese screens each year.

Actor Hong Jiantao trashed the film on his blog, saying it was traumatic for small children and describing the treatment of China in the film “in both the scenes and the dialogue, as hostile, even disdainful.”

Some Internet users angrily noted that Chinese workers who mobilized to build the giant boats in the Himalayas were then prevented from boarding, but the film eventually offers them a happy ending.

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