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Why scary Chinese movies are so scarce (2)

By Li Anlan (Shanghai Daily)

10:18, October 31, 2012

Actually there are a few memorable films on the mainland. In 2003, Shanghai Film Group produced "Midnight Ghosts" directed by Li Xiepu about two young women who facing a terrifying series of events in an old house.

For Li, the low-budget horror film was fun and challenging. "I don't think it was splendid or brilliant, but I tried," he tells Shanghai Daily.

Authentic ghosts and anything ghost-related will not be permitted in contemporary films, Li says. "Because of the censorship system, the choice of topics is limited. In horror films, only people can kill people or cause catastrophes. People must pretend to be ghosts," says Li Yunliang, screenwriter and executive producer of "Midnight Ghosts."

The only exceptions are the ghosts and horror figures in well-known Chinese classics, such as "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," or "Liao Zhai Zhi Yi," a collection of around 500 tales compiled by Pu Songling (1640-1715) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). They have been adapted into many period films ("The Painted Skin," 2008) and TV series. But there can be no modern ghosts or hauntings.

"Art is a dream factory, ghost stories are made up and this doesn't violate the concept of materialism," director Li says. "If we break the ice and provide more space for horror films, maybe we will have more excellent works."

Another restriction is the amount and degree of blood, gore and violence. Horrific visuals are restricted. If there's too much blood or violence, the scenes are cut. Films cannot be shown in theaters unless they pass censors.

Chinese director Agan (he uses only one name) has made four somewhat successful horror films, meaning they didn't lose money, including "Fierce Spirit" (2001) and "The Game of Killing" (2004). The audience bought tickets for a big-screen experience that beats DVD, but they gave poor reviews.

Agan agrees those films weren't effective or scary.

"With our film standards, you can't make horror films that will satisfy audiences - the most basic visual horror is strictly limited," Agan tells Shanghai Daily.

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