Actor Kris Wu
It’s widely believed that a charming face and great figure are essential for anyone setting out on an acting career in the TV and film industry, however, when looks become more valuable than talent, things can go very, very wrong.
In recent years, a new type of idol has become all the rage in China : young highly attractive entertainment professionals known as xiaoxianrou, or “little fresh meat.” Most of those labeled as “fresh meat” have large fan bases among young people – in other words, a huge pool of potential consumers – and thus have attracted huge investors to dominate the show business. The practice of finding and grooming these young entertainers has become so common that the term “appearance economy” has been coined to describe the trend.
The question in everyone’s minds now is just how long will this appearance economy be the dominant force in the TV and film industry in China? Representatives at the on-going Two Sessions and industry professionals have made their intentions clear: Not long, if they have anything to say about it.
More than a face
“If you only want to watch pretty faces, why not go to a beauty pageant, instead of go see a film or TV show?” asked well-known Chinese director and producer Zheng Xiaolong, also a member of the National Committee of the CPPCC, when addressing the assembly at the Two Sessions on Saturday. Zheng went on to stress that it would be unhealthy for the creative industry to only focus on how actors and actresses looked, instead of the actual quality of their performances.
Zheng is not the only voice speaking out about the “fresh meat trend.” A string of disappointing films and shows starring attractive stars has led to growing grievances among Chinese audiences.
For example, the 2017 film Once Upon a Time, an adaptation of the popular award-winning Chinese novel Three Lives Three World, Tens Miles of Peach Blossoms, was widely called by many moviegoers “the worst film of the year.” The film has a 3.7/10 on Chinese media review site Douban, while the show’s handsome male lead, 26-year-old actor Yang Yang, was widely criticized for his lack of acting talent.
Attractive performers with poor acting ability have become so common that miantan (facial paralysis) has become a common buzzword used in many reviews to describe their wooden performances.
Bad acting seems to pale in comparison to another trend that sees studios overly rely on post-production to churn out shows quickly and cheaply.
Many Chinese viewers jaws dropped open after they saw that many scenes in the TV series General and I (2017) simply features highly popular actress Angelababy standing in front of obvious greenscreen backgrounds instead of a real-life set. It has also become a trend among studios to make high use of body doubles and voice dubbing instead of actually bringing in actors and actresses to perform certain scenes as this can save both time and money.
“I think there is a difference between a real actor and someone who is merely a celebrity,” said well-known Chinese actor Feng Yuanzheng at the Two Sessions when addressing China’s “fresh meat” issue. He noted that while the former commit themselves fully to their roles, the latter tend to only worry about publicity.
While the problems with such a superficial trend is clear, studios are under a lot of economic pressure to use every means at their disposal to bring in audiences, which sometimes means hiring idols more for their popularity than their talent.
“From a producers’ perspective, we have a love-hate relationship with these ‘fresh meat’ idols. I think the real problem lies in the market itself,” said Zhang Penghui, a veteran professional in China’s film and TV industry, told the Global Times.
Zhang explained that these idols are a double-edged sword: On one hand these celebrities have huge fan bases that can increase a production’s chances of turning a profit, but on the other hand, these idols tend to come at sky-high rates.
On average, around 60 percent to 70 percent of a production budget can be spent on these idols, according to Zhang. He pointed to last year’s popular entertainment program, The Rap of China, as an example. It cost the studio around $100 million yuan ($15.85 million), half of the show’s entire budget, to hire popular singer and actor Kris Wu (Wu Yifan) as a judge.
“It’s like gambling. Producers stake everything they have on one or two young celebrities, leaving only a little bit of the budget left over for actual production. Of course this heavily impacts the quality of a production,” Zhang explained.
He also pointed out that the rise of social media means Internet celebrities have become another pool from which studios are pulling from for their productions, the problem is that many of these social media influencers have no training or experience in acting.
Proposals by cultural representatives at the Two Sessions reflect that this is an issue that is being taken seriously.
For example, Zeng Fang, an entrepreneur in the creative industry, suggested raising taxes as a means to combat the over-heated market’s rising salaries.
Zhang, however, has faith that the market will correct itself in time. “The market will self-adjust. When idols charge more than studios can afford, the latter will turn to other solutions and focus more on creativity. The market is always developing and needs this improvement anyway,” said Zhang.
– Global Times