Popularity of Day of the Dead film 'Coco' reflects changing views on spirits in China

2017-11-30 10:43Global Times Editor: Li Yan ECNS App Download

Throughout China's long history, ghosts and spirits have remained something of a taboo, especially where children are concerned. But today, the increasing popularity of Halloween and ghost-themed animated films from Hollywood have caused younger generations in China to approach ghost culture with a more open mind.

The success of Coco, the latest film from Pixar, reflects this new outlook.

Released in the Chinese mainland on Friday, the film netted 117 million yuan ($17.7 million) over its first weekend, pushing superhero blockbuster Justice League to second place. While the film only had a 9.8 percent screen share on opening day, extremely positive audience reviews - on Chinese film sites the film has a 9.6/10 on Maoyan, a 9.2/10 on Douban and an 8.9/10 on Mtime - helped the not-so-highly anticipated film reach a screen share of 22 percent by Tuesday. As of Wednesday noon, the film has collected a total of 170 million yuan at the Chinese mainland box office.

On Douban, the film is rated "higher than 99 percent of animated films" on the website and "higher than 98 percent of musicals."

"Coco is the highest rated Pixar film in the Chinese market so far, as well as the highest rated Hollywood animated film this year," Beijing Daily reported Monday.

Chinese in their 20s make up the vast majority of moviegoers in China. Yet, when it comes to Coco, the audience skews slightly older. According to statistics from Maoyan, one of China's biggest online ticketing platforms, the 30- to 40-year-old demographic for Coco is 2 percent higher than that of the three most popular films - Justice League, Manhunt and Angels Wear White - showing during the same period. This indicates that parents with smaller children are a larger part of the audience than these other films.

Coco is not the only supernatural film from Hollywood that has receive applause in China. Earlier works, such as Corpse Bride and the Hotel Transylvania franchise all have great reviews in China.

"When I was a child, dressing as a spirit or ghost was a major taboo, so my father forbade us doing it for fear that it would bring bad luck," Ge Song, a man in his early 30s, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

However, now that he is a father he is more than willing to let his 3-year-old dress up as some cute spirits for Halloween, while after watching Hollywood cartoons like Hotel Transylvania and Coco, he doesn't see any reason to forbid his son from watching these types of movies.

Huang Wei, a mother in her mid-30s, told the Global Times that her parents would scold her when she was a kid for talking about things such as ghosts or spirits.

When Huang noticed her daughter was a bit scared of seeing the film after she saw some of the skeletons on the poster for Coco, Huang tried to avail her fears by telling her, "if you look closely, you'll see that they are kinda cute."

Huang agreed that Western ghost culture had definitely had an impact on her, but she feels that a more important reason that Chinese people no longer see ghosts and spirits as something taboo is that they don't believe in them.

Li Xiangping, a professor at the School of Social Development at East China Normal University and also director of the Religion and Social Studies Research Center, told the Global Times that in the West dressing up as ghosts and monsters during Halloween can be seen as a sign that people are confronting traditional religion in which people who commit sins are seen as demons. But in China, people, mainly young consumers, dress up more out of a desire to have fun and be part of the latest trends. Since this means spending money to purchase costumes, older people are less likely to take part since they tend to be on fixed budgets.


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