With the commercial opportunities, the meteoric rise of live streaming poses important questions for the society in which it thrives.
The ever-growing list of live streaming apps and websites in China currently stands at around 300. In case tracking every thought, outfit change and coffee break by WeChat, Weibo and Meipai weren’t enough, every man, woman and celeb is now streaming themselves in real time, transporting viewers from exotic locales, to sport stadia, to the red carpet, all the way to the front rooms of glum bachelors chewing pot noodles. It is estimated that at any given moment there may be more than 60,000 people live streaming themselves, with men comprising the majority of the audience, particularly for the two most popular subjects; live video games and doe-eyed, subservient young ‘Girl Goddesses’ preening and purring into their iPhone cameras.
Modern Chinese society provides a highly fertile environment for the phenomenon to spawn and multiply. 500 million smartphones in circulation contribute to the 5th highest worldwide penetration and ample opportunities for engaging. In bleak cities everywhere, millions of lonely and bored migrant workers far from loved ones turn to streams to escape, alleviate boredom or seek companionship. Stuck in a hopeless situation beyond their control, there is surely appeal to controlling the outcome of their interactions, even if in the smallest possible way. In streams, a swelling middle class looks for lifestyle inspiration from achievers and adventurers, while a generation of twenty and thirtysomething only-children finds friends, confidants and role models.
The phenomenon is intriguing, not so much for its popularity – after all, it may be considered just an extension of the already all-pervasive social media – rather for the fact that viewers are so eager to spend hard earned yuan on it. It is significant that of the 300,000 people that watched Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin stream himself playing poker on a private jet, many of the low income viewers felt compelled to donate money to China’s wealthiest man.
Live streaming has become an extremely lucrative industry, a mini economy fuelled by virtual gifts, in the form of e-roses, e-chocolates or other e-token that equate to money, that the viewer may donate in exchange for influence on the streamer’s behavior or to express gratitude. The highest earners by far are the pretty young girls offering chitchat, makeup tips or flashes of cleavage, some of whom earn from 80,000 yuan per night, up as far as Papi Jiang, who whipped up a berserk 900,000 yuan during one 90 minute session.
As the girls get rich, so too are the hosting platforms, which take 50% or more of the gift revenue and are beginning to sell advertising space. Investors have so far pumped an estimated $750 million of venture capital into live streaming apps. Brands are pouncing too, paying key opinion streamers to endorse products, or streaming directly from their stores. Last month, American department store giant Macy’s attracted 100,000 viewers to a live Chinese language in-store broadcast, while China’s highly evolved e-commerce ecosystem, which in this case saw Macy’s team with Tmall, allows viewers to easily make purchases within the stream.
In addition to the throngs of amateurs jumping on the stream train, established content creators are also taking notice. Rebecca Yang, founder and CEO of IPCN, an IP licenser and original creator regards it as an opportunity that cannot be ignored, saying, “I can’t say I am pro this culture, but I want to understand it. We as content providers need to think how it can be taken to our advantage, to create something a lot more valuable and entertaining.” IPCN recently launched a stream of their Shanghai office with heavily scripted elements occurring alongside the real. It marks a new form of reality television, somewhere between scripted dramas filmed live, and real shows like Big Brother that, though heavily manipulated, are not actively scripted or cast with actors.
Live streaming stokes the same debates about individual health and wellbeing that have existed since social media began dominating young peoples’ consciousness. Despite connecting digitally, individuals are extracting themselves from the real world unfolding around them, often at the expense of physical human contact. More than ever before, the impressionable are following unsuitable role models that promote unrealistic ideals or body image.
The psychological well-being of a growing numbers of addicted streamers may be a cause for concern for authorities, though a cynic might quote the benefits of an increasingly isolated, distracted population, venting their social frustrations in the relative harmlessness of online live stream rooms. Regardless, said authorities are naturally monitoring the situation, while streaming services themselves are employing large teams to watch for political or overly sexual content. However, with diverse new streams cropping up daily, rules on specifically forbidden content are being issued on a reactive rather than proactive basis. Infamously, in a bid to curb the increasingly raunchy Girl Goddesses, streamers are now banned from eating bananas in a suggestive fashion.
Live streaming is no fad, hot app or hobby. 2D feeds will soon be supplemented with, and perhaps eventually replaced by, immersive virtual reality streams, as apparatus becomes readily available and app compatible. As big business, brands and celebrities inject promotional and financial clout and little sign of the socio-economic conditions abating, expect the live stream wave to continue to engulf all before it.
Director Cellin Gluck’s Persona Non Grata tells the remarkable story of Chiune Sugihara.
“I may have disobeyed my government but, had I not done what I did, I would be disobeying God”, said Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat whose selfless actions saved thousands of Jewish lives during World War II. Director Cellin Gluck’s latest feature film, Persona Non Grata, tells Sugihara’s remarkable story.
(foreground) Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa) and (background)General Hiroshi Oshima, Japanese Ambassador to Germany Hiroshi Oshima (Fumiyo Kohinata)
In 1939, Chiune Sugihara was posted to serve as Vice-Consul for Japan in Kaunas, Lithuania. As the Nazis and Soviet Union seized more land across Europe, persecuted Jewish refugees, finding no unoccupied nation willing to take them, came to Sugihara seeking an escape route to Japan. When Tokyo refuses to issue them entry visas for Japan, Sugihara knows that compliance will condemn the refugees to their fate under the Nazis. A solution presents itself when he learns that the Dutch consul was issuing documents stating that the bearer could enter the colony of Curacao, a territory where no visa was required. Provided with a final destination, it gave Sugihara excuse enough to provide transit visas through Japan, a type of visa he was never explicitly told not to issue, and the refugees a means of getting through the Soviet Union. To buy time, he writes to Tokyo seeking clarification of the original refusal, giving him a grey area in which to act in the meantime. As Gluck explains, “It’s plausible deniability to use a 21st century term. It’s the way diplomacy should work… It’s all games and I think that’s the beauty of the story.” Sugihara’s actions saved an estimated 6000 lives but cost him his career.
Cellin Gluck (left) directs Fumiyo Kohinata
Cellin Gluck first become interested in the story after reading The Fugu Plan, a book about proposals to resettle Jewish refugees in Japan. “You can’t write this stuff, the truth is stranger than fiction… the story blew me away”, he explains. In 2014, Japanese studio Nippon TV decided to make a picture to unofficially mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, casting Toshiaki Karasawa to play Sugihara. Karasawa, who had acted in Gluck’s 2011 movie Oba The Last Samurai, insisted that if the film was not going to be in Japanese, nor shot in Japan, then there was only one director with the multicultural perspective that could do the story justice.
Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa) and Wolfgang Gudze (Cezary Łukaszewicz)
“I speak the language fluently and I understand the Japanese psyche to a certain extent, I can do both. I can make films the American way… but I still have Japanese sensitivities”, says Gluck.
The director was born in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, to a Jewish American father and Japanese American mother. After graduation from college in the US, his first film job was carrying the mirror for famously volatile eccentric Klaus Kinski on avant-garde Japanese director Shūji Terayama’s Fruits of Passion. He moved to New York to become an actor but instead found work directing commercials for a Japanese advertising agency. In 1988, he returned to Japan to work as an Assistant Director on Ridley Scott’s Black Rain.
Cellin Gluck (right) directs Michał Żurawski
His American-Japanese background has frequently informed his movie career, which has included roles as Japanese unit production manager on Godzilla (2014) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) as well as the 2nd unit director on The Hunted (1995) and Into the Sun (2005). His directorial highlights include Saidoweizu – a 2009 Japanese remake of the Academy-Award winning US comedy Sideways – and Oba The Last Samurai, his co-written film about the survival of a small group of soldiers after the Battle of Saipan at the end of World War II.
In 1998, Gluck co-founded production company, P.I.G, which now has offices in L.A and Shanghai.
Irina (Agnieszka Grochowska)
One of challenges in building the story was the limited amount of first-hand information from Sugihara. The fact that he never wrote an autobiography and rarely talked about his actions is telling of the humble character of the man, who acted purely because he felt it was the right thing to do.
(Left to right) Dariusz Krysiak (Make up artist), Borys Szyc and Cellin Gluck
In an attempt to accurately capture the diplomat’s character, the Japanese writers Tetsuro Kamata and Hiromichi Matsuo did enormous amounts of research, including spending time with Sugihara’s eldest son’s widow and granddaughter. For the scenes with religious overtones, Gluck consulted with rabbis and Russian orthodox priests. The cast of characters also reflects reality, with Sugihara’s driver Pesch an amalgam of the three or more Polish agents that worked for the diplomat, while love interest Irene is a nod to his Russian first wife.
Avraham Goehner (Zbigniew Zamachowski) and Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa)
Produced by Cine Bazar and Nippon Television Films, the 42-day shoot was initially planned to be in Lithuania, but an insufficient domestic supply of equipment and crew negated the rebate incentives. Instead the US$6m production moved to neighbouring Poland, an appropriate choice given 90% of those Sugihara saved were Polish. It also brought a wealth of top Polish acting talent, including Borys Szye (Pesch) and Agnieszka Grochowska (Irina). The DoP was Academy Award nominated Hollywood veteran Garry Waller.
Sugihara’s story has brought inevitable comparisons with 1993’s Schindler’s List. In fact, there were ‘Schindlers’ who helped save Jewish lives in many territories – Estonia, Sweden, Austria, France, China and beyond – the stories of whom started emerging after Spielberg’s movie. “Schindler became a catalyst to get the stories out,” says Gluck “The irony is, Schindler did his work in ’44, whereas all these other guys were saving Jewish lives in 1940 and ’41”.
Yukiko Sugihara (Koyuki) and Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa)
Sugihara’s actions saw him dismissed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after World War II. Various menial jobs and a life of obscurity working for a small trading company in Moscow ensued. Though the Israeli government named him ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ a year before his death in 1986, a Japanese reluctance to talk about World War II meant he was not formally recognised by his own government until 2000. His name has now been submitted for inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Chiune Sugihara (Toshiaki Karasawa) and Wolfgang Gudze (Cezary Łukaszewicz)
The positive reaction to Persona Non Grata has brought a fresh wave of recognition for Sugihara’s story. At its world premiere in Kaunas last October, the film received a five-minute standing ovation and it has been seen by over a million people in Japan, taking $12m – a substantial achievement in the domestic box office for a historical film. It has been screened at the Atlanta Jewish and Washington Japanese Film Festivals, on Holocaust Remembrance day at the YIVO Institute in New York, and won the Special Jury Award for Cinematic Excellence and Social Justice at the Oregon DisOrient Film Festival.
(Left to right) Hubert Koprowicz (1st AD), Toshiaki Karasawa, Koyuki, Cellin Gluck (director)
The First Monday in May follows the creation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s most attended fashion exhibition in history, “China: Through The Looking Glass,” an exploration of Chinese-inspired Western fashions by Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton. Andrew Rossi captures the collision of high fashion and celebrity at the Met Gala. Chaired every year by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, the event features Wong Kar Wai, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano, as well as pop icons like Rihanna.
P.I.G.’s latest film for Bulgari China. Out of La Maison Shanghai and in co-production with Handsome, directed by Eugenio Recuenco, the Chinese star Kris Wu brought us a dazzling fashion show.
“Life doesn’t happen online. It happens outside, in the streets. Under the sky. Amongst other bodies”
P.I.G. China director Dean Freeman’s latest film tells a story of mind and body. Shot in Havana, Cuba, the film depicts the streets, playgrounds, beaches of the city, but most importantly, the free spirits who answer the call of their minds to push the limits of bodies in an utopian society.
The Rise Of Chinese Pro Wrestling
“You SUCK, you SUCK!” The sparse crowd of seventy that has ventured to a repurposed gay nightclub on this stifling May evening is beginning to find its voice. Middle Kingdom Wrestling World Champion Dalton Bragg prowls the ring, glaring through black eyeliner at the Chinese men abusing him in English. A few paces behind, The Selfie King’s blood-splattered chest heaves as man-mountain Big Sam hauls him into the air and dumps him on to the canvas.
“Wrestling is Shakespeare for the modern age”, yells Nikk Mitchell over the chants and sporadic crashes of body on mat. The managing partner of Middle Kingdom Wrestling (MKW), the collective that has provided four fighters for tonight’s show, has just returned to his ringside seat after an altercation with the referee. “Nowadays theatre is so highfalutin”, he shouts, “Back in the day, it was super lowbrow. People would throw fruit at the actors. Wrestling is one of the few art forms left in the world where audience participation is a major aspect. That’s what makes it so special.”
Build It And They Will Come
To be clear, Mitchell is talking about storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed pro-wrestling, the entertainment art form combining athleticism with performance that the ill informed deride as ‘fake’. Originated in the US in the mid-20th century, Japan leads the Asian scene, albeit in a more legitimate sport-like form, while Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong all boast leagues with some degree of popularity and pedigree.
Mainland China remains a sleeping giant, with a lineage going back only as far as 2004, the year that Guangdong wrestler, known as The Slam, left for Korea to hone his craft. On his return to Dongguan, he constructed a mobile professional ring and trained up a group of local Chinese talent that he would later formalize into Chinese Wrestling Entertainment. His traveling arena became the home of CWE’s semi-regular live shows and the shoot location for their online TV show.
Chinese wrestling has endured stuttering beginnings, perhaps best exemplified by the events of October 2013, when Paul Wang, a wrestling super-fan with dreams of building a league to match America’s WWE, invited an assortment of local and international wrestlers to Chongqing for four live shows. After promising big money investment and a glamorous future, Wang botched the operation, cancelled half the shows and disappeared, leaving the wrestlers to pay their own airfare home.
After multiple false starts and isolated shows, the past 18 months have seen a shift in gear. In early 2015, The Slam received a call from Adrian Gomez, an American expat launching a Chinese pro wrestling promotion and wanting to discuss a partnership. Gomez spent the proceeding months building a roster of talent to form the basis of Middle Kingdom Wrestling. MKW’s first show took place in Dongguan in July 2015, followed by a larger winter showcase featuring wrestlers from the US, UK, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Forming around the same time was China’s other main aspiring promotion, China Wrestling Federation (CWF), founded by Fei Wu Xing, the boss of China’s largest wrestling website ShuaiJiao.com. CWF held its first show in Shanghai earlier this month featuring their own wrestlers and others hired from MKW.
Wrestling With Chinese Characteristics
Despite commanding a massive online following, world leading US behemoth World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) had until recently been curiously inactive in China. That all changed this summer when the $650m corporation staged a major PR campaign in China, bringing over legends John Cena and Triple H, ostensibly to scout new Chinese talent, but mostly to generate buzz around a live event in Shanghai in September and to announce deals with online channel PPTV to screen its US shows in Mandarin.
WWE’s existing popularity provides a strong foundation upon which local pretenders can develop their own on and offline wrestling content. One of their many challenges will be attracting a local audience that has probably never attended a live show before and, once they are there, generating atmosphere among a small crowd that has never participated in the pantomime before.
The key, says Gomez, is to develop characters to which fans can relate. “Emulating a WWE show for a Chinese audience will not make a successful promotion. Instead, his plan is to bring pro wrestling with “Chinese characteristics”. “China has 56 minority groups and iconic things that all make great gimmicks,” he says, “I watch Running Man and Baba Qu Na. Those elements can be incorporated into pro wrestling to catch a massive audience.”
Gomez doesn’t worry about competition – after all, many wrestlers are shared between promotions – but stresses his character-driven approach differentiates MKW from the rest, “[CWF] really prefer the Japanese style… It looks more like a traditional sport. [We] care more about telling stories.”
A Yao Ming In The Ring
If domestic wrestling is to gain traction with the local audience, it will need its own superstars. Seeking to find a ‘Yao Ming in the ring’, Japanese federation IGF, run by WWE hall of famer Antonio Inoke, opened a dojo in Shanghai in 2013. IGF soon claimed it had found a future icon in the form of Wang Bin, a 20-year old gym coach from Anhui. Wang promptly left for Japan to receive a higher quality of training, just The Slam had done in Korea a decade earlier.
The move paid off. Wang recently became the first Chinese athlete to sign a development contract with the WWE and is currently training at the WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, hoping to one day become the federation’s first fully-fledged Chinese star.
(l-r) Selfie King, Royal Stu, Emi Sakura, Dalton Bragg, Riho, Nikk Mitchell (MKW managing partner). Images courtesy of Nikk Mitchell
Yet for all the marketing fanfare, WWE will struggle to find more Chinese wrestlers any time soon. Most estimates suggest there are currently only about 20 wrestlers in the entire country, and a shortage of training facilities or world-class coaches means little new talent is emerging.
The scarcity of resources is causing the quality of current shows to suffer. MKW headliner Dalton Bragg explains, “If you see wrestlers who train three times a week and wrestle once a month, the matches are 100 times better than when they show up twice a year and haven’t trained at all.”
Chinese promoters are also having difficulty maintaining the presence needed to build a fan base. “The key to staying power is staying visible”, says Bragg, “Companies do a show and then drop off the face of the earth for 6 months. There’s no fan retention.” Running regular shows is easier said than done though. Alongside the financial barriers, Gomez explains it is difficult to explain wrestling to the older generation and therefore difficult to find suitable venues.
The current crop of promoters faces a long and difficult road. CWF and MKW are seeking to keep up the momentum with live events in Shenzhen in September and Inner Mongolia in November respectively, while the WWE increased presence should help by inspiring more athletes, investors and entrepreneurs to get involved in the sport.
For now though, Chinese wrestling is fueled by the passion of its promoters. “The more matches we do, the more I come to love wrestling,” says MKW’s Nikk Mitchell, “I feel like I’m getting to the heart of what makes wrestling popular, and that’s so exciting.”
Tue. 24 May, 2016
Doors open 9 | Movie starts 9:30
65 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)
Drink specials: beer|wine|cocktails
Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn
Only 35 seats
First come first serve policy
For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project, which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty.
Sebastião Salgado’s life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his last travels, and by Wim Wenders, himself a photographer.