Right now everybody is curious about everything coming from China, including economy and art. So what does the creative director at MTV China in Beijing, Kahing Chan, see in the film and animation scene through a huge media like MTV? When Kahing paid a short visit to Japan for the Shizuoka Contents Valley Festival (SCVF), PingMag asked him about Chinese music television and the future of Chinese motion graphics.
Could you introduce yourself, please?
I’m Kahing Chan, a creative director at MTV China. I studied fine arts in Canada but got more interested in computer animation while I was living in LA with my brother in 1992. After that, I went back to Canada to take a one year course on computer animation, holding a mouse instead of a brush. Then I went back to Hong Kong and worked with some companies including Channel V. In 2005, I started to work with MTV China as a creative director.
What do you exactly do at MTV China?
At MTV, I’m at the On Air Promo Department and produce any kind of visuals apart from programs and music videos. 30 percent of them are for MTV’s identity and promotion visuals and the rest is for events like concerts and competition.
I heard that you run a competition for MTV’s identities (Mid) to find more young talented filmmakers…
Yes, we ran the contest for the very first time in China last year, but at the end we received only six works (laughs). We didn’t have enough budget, so we promoted it only among my friends and on the MTV website. That is why five out of six pieces were coming from my friends. As there was no reward for winners apart from being broadcasted on MTV, I think it’s a natural result. However, the only real applicant was very enthusiastic: he was even a professional who worked at a TV channel.
I saw those six identities at your talk show at SCVF and I was very amazed by the quality of it. There is a lot of chance to see design and art from China these days, but somehow it seems like there’s not much information about Chinese moving images… What is happening over there?
There are many film schools in China and you will probably find some in any big city. Also there are many people who are interested in films generally. Chinese people love feature films, so I feel that many of us have the eyes to see them.
How about short films though?
Short films are not very known yet. Onedotzero was held once in China in 2002, but that was on for only 2 days.
Do you think there is any specific style or technique you can find in Chinese filmmakers’ work?
There seem to be many people who like techniques with watercolour looks, but apart from that I can’t think of anything else. If you talk about feature films, many filmmakers tend to have conservative themes, like finding the Chinese roots. But in the last few years there were more films that were set within the background of the Cultural Revolution.
How about MTV in China? How much do people know about it?
MTV is a foreign channel that is emitted over satellite, and all of the broadcasted area is controlled by the Chinese government. You can watch MTV as another land-based channel only in the Canton area, as this area is very open for foreign channels, but the mainland is not. But we have about 30 minutes of broadcast on other land-based channels like Beijing Television and CCTV everyday.
So, not many people have heard about MTV yet?
Compared to the mainland, Canton is a tiny area, so obviously the audience rating is very low for a big country like China. It means that MTV is not well known there yet and many people even don’t know what MTV is exactly. Apart from the Canton area, many people in China believe that MTV means ‘music video’.
Really? So, do music video directors say “I make MTV” instead of saying “I make music videos” then…?
Exactly! It’s quite amazing to know how many people misunderstand the word MTV. For example, I had a meeting with some production company the other day and one of them said: “So, you’ve changed your business, haven’t you?” I asked him why and he said: “Because MTV used to make music videos!”. They are professionals and still totally confused. It’s shocking. However, this is not a disadvantage for MTV because every time people talk about music videos they mention MTV (laughs).
When I made an appointment with you, I did some research about music and the creative scene in China. Then I found in the news that the Chinese issue of Rolling Stone magazine was published last year and got prohibited right after the first issue. This might be a delicate theme to talk about, but why do you think it happened?
I don’t know exactly why it was prohibited, but anything coming from outside of China must pass censorship to make sure there is nothing to affect the balance of our society. So I guess there was something in that issue that challenged the Chinese government or today’s China or the value of the country itself.
But you can see anything on the internet, so what is the point of having censorship?
You can not see anything on the internet in China. The Chinese government can block websites that cause some problems. Sometimes you can’t even access to Yahoo or the website of a radio station in Hong Kong, but the government has a right to do so.
There are many rules for censorship, too. As another example is I have directed two TV commercials for Nokia to be broadcasted on land-based channels before. However, the first one of them got prohibited to go on air because one of the characters was wearing a police uniform. It wasn’t even the uniform of the Chinese Police, but according to them nobody should make fun of the police.
By the way, the other commercial got also prohibited to be broadcasted, because the main characters were wearing ladies’ dresses. Apparently that image would have been a bad influence for young people, too…
Don’t make fun of the police: censored TV commercial for Nokia, directed by Kahing Chan. Click HERE for the movie.
No ladies’ dresses allowed: also censored TV commercial for Nokia, directed by Kahing Chan.
It sounds tough…
These kind of things happen in TV very often – because TV is the most important medium in China. This situation might sound shocking to people abroad, but in the end those two commercials were broadcasted on MTV. There are many rules in China but there is always a way to break through those problems.
Do you think that the situation in China will change in the future?
No. This is the only way to keep the balance of such a big country. If the government doesn’t control anything, China will go wrong. This is almost the same as playing a game: if there are no rules to play the game, it won’t be interesting. Even better – you can find enjoyment through all these rules.
I’m very impressed with your positive thinking. So how do you think will the Chinese film/animation scene change this situation?
I think it will change rapidly and the change has actually started already. People born in the 1980s don’t have a deep attachment to tradition anymore, instead they are absorbing new things almost like a dry sponge.
After the Cultural Revolution, China has become open. Our living standards have gone up and many parents now wish for a happy life with some freedom for their children. Though we had some regulations, we got a big amount of information through the internet in the 90s. So young people today have global ideas and know how to express themselves. Before that, we thought it would be strange to have differing ideas and to wear different clothes. But now everyone wants to be special.
In the last few years, the film and animation scene in China has been growing really fast and is now already reaching the level of other countries. However, I met many people at SCVF and they all said the same thing: “This is the first time I see motion graphic works from China.” Although we can see almost anything in China, I realized that not many people have seen work from China.
Actually, I was going to bring some of our staff with me to visit Japan – but it was cancelled because they couldn’t get a visa. I managed to get one because I‘m holding a Canadian passport. I don’t know the exact reason why, but I guess it has nothing to do with where we wanted to travel. It’s more of a political problem. Thinking things this way and standing in a situation like myself, I feel I should represent Chinese filmmakers and introduce their work to the world!
I think you are the one, then. With your visit to Japan, many people learned about the situation in China and got to see great works from there. So what are you planning to do as a creative director of MTV in the future?
I would like to dig new talents in China and introduce them to the world. There must be many people who don’t know where to start. For them, I would say… please use MTV to show your work as a steppingstone for the whole world. And my role there is to support those young filmmakers.
And also I want to let people know that MTV is not only about music videos, it’s the place to provide something creative (smiles).
Finally, any massage for the young filmmakers in China?
Be yourself, be proud of yourself.
Kahing, it was really great to talk to you today. We are looking forward to seeing more amazing work from China. Good luck!