Road-trip feature “The Continent” directed by novelist, blogger and racecar driver Han Han, and romance drama “Tiny Times 3” directed by novelist Guo Jingming, top China’s box office with earnings of 300 million yuan and 155 million yuan respectively.
“The Continent” tells the tale of 3 childhood friends who go on a road trip to find themselves and the meaning of life. “Tiny Times 3”, however, tells of the burgeoning lives of 4 girls, with luxury brands from head to two, in Shanghai.
In many senses, these are two very different films. Viewers’ reactions are very different, too: “The Continent” earns a rating of 7.5 (out of 10) on China’s biggest database of movies, books and music Douban.com, whereas “Tiny Times 3” only gets 4.3. What holds up the two well in comparison to each other are their directors.
Both Han and Guo first got national attention after competing in China’s New Concept Writing Competition. Both reached prominence by writing teen novels. And most importantly, both are cultural icons representative of China’s huge and increasingly important post-80s generation.
China’s post-80s generation (born between 1980 and 1990) can be said to be the country’s baby boomers in terms of its sheer size. But size isn’t the only thing that makes this generation special. Demographically, they are China’s first generation of “only child”, the very first “little emperors and empresses.” Culturally, they’ve witnessed and personally lived through China’s transition from a closed-up planned economy when a landline was considered a luxury to the world’s second large economy with the world’s largest online population.
To a certain extent, the coming-of-age stories of the post-80s generation is a story of modern China. Han and Guo, as the faces of this generation, are two telling examples of these 30-something young adults are likely to shape their country in years to come.
Han Han has long been considered a spokesman for youth discontent in China, known for his caustic commentary on official corruption and social inequality. But no one’d forever be a young rebel. His latest pieces on freedom, democracy and revolution in China, which many believed have marked his political u-turn, argued that China is not ready for democracy.
What has changed? In a recent interview, Han told his fans that “The Continent”, which is about a self-discovery trip by 3 nobodies, is a farewell to his past. In the movie’s theme song, he wrote: “I was once upset, disappointed and lost, until I found answer in mediocrity.”
On the contrary, Guo Jingming, who represents a very different side of China’s younger generations, is anything but mediocrity. As one of China’s best-selling authors, Guo takes pride in, and never hesitates to show off, his obsession with luxury brand names in his works.
As his wealth accumulates over the years, his obsession with luxury lifestyle only grows. In his “Tiny Times” movies, a change of wardrobe was prescribed for every character in every scene, necessitating thousands of brand-name costumes for the entire movie. Though his movies are often criticized for promoting “decadent materialism,”, his huge commercial success speaks volumes of the appeal of his values.
Who represents the majority of China’s post-80s generation? The young rebel who chooses to become a mediocre adult or the “price tag equals meaning” super consumer? The answer can be very depressing, as many Chinese netizens noted: Han Han is the reality while Guo Jingming is the aspiration.