BEIJING » Even before Americans began flocking to theaters on Christmas Eve to see "The Interview" – Sony Pictures’ comedy about a CIA plot to kill the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un – Chinese film fans by the thousands were downloading mostly pirated versions of the movie on domestic video-sharing websites. By midday on Friday, more than 300,000 people had seen the film, and the reviews, by and large, were favorable.
"Perfect, the greatest film in history, all hail Sony," read one online comment. Said another, "Their ability to amuse is out of this galaxy," referring to the film’s stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco.
In one sign of the enthusiasm for the film, whose theatrical release was initially held up after a hacking attack on the studio, "The Interview" scored an 8 out of 10 rating on the Chinese Internet movie database Douban, with more than 10,000 people posting reviews. In their comments, some people acknowledged having not seen the film, but wanted to show their support for what many approvingly described as an act of subversion against North Korea.
Although China is North Korea’s only significant ally on the world stage, many ordinary Chinese have mixed feelings about their government’s relationship with North Korea, which has been called as close as "lips and teeth." Some have come to see a reflection of their own condition in North Korea’s poverty, repressiveness and over-the-top propaganda. Online, some commentators have begun to refer to the North Korean leader as "Fatty Kim the 3rd."
In a nod to China’s authoritarian side, one user wrote, "If we made a comedy that said ‘Assassinate Mao,’ the result would be unimaginable. Don’t ‘like’ my post or I’ll get detained." (On many video-sharing sites, the film’s title was translated as "Assassinate Kim Jong Un.")
The reliably contrarian Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid owned by the Communist Party-run People’s Daily, weighed in on "The Interview" with an article that focused on what it described as the film’s "senseless cultural arrogance." In another article, it quoted Chinese academics who, in apparent seriousness, slammed the movie’s lack of accuracy in portraying North Korea.
Zhang Yiwu, a cultural critic at Peking University, said "The Interview" revealed the West’s distorted view of North Korea.
"Like the rest of the world, most of our knowledge of North Korea comes from Western media," he told the newspaper. "As Western ideologies continue to penetrate Chinese society, Chinese online users may become unknowingly influenced by the movie, hence accepting the Western view of North Korea."
Officially, at least, the Chinese government has yet to comment on the film. Last week, after the Obama administration asked for Beijing’s help in cracking down on the North Korean hackers thought to have infiltrated Sony’s corporate computer system, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs skirted the request and issued its familiar condemnation of cyberattacks.
"Before making any conclusions, there has to be a full accounting of the facts and foundation," said the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying. "China will handle it in accordance with relevant international and Chinese laws according to the facts."
Although many who watched the film thought it was funny, others described its humor as juvenile, crass and perhaps a bit dangerous.
"These angry young people, while appreciating the film, are actually revealing their mindsets of pleasing the lord of their hearts – the U.S., or the so-called beacon of freedom and democracy," wrote one user on Douban.
Andrew Jacobs, New York Times