“Love without materialism is just a pile of sand.”
That is a quote from China’s current top film, Tiny Times, a film that set a new opening day record in China (for a 2D film) and just crossed the $50 million box office threshold. (Not shabby for a film that cost just $7.25 million to make.) A sequel will be released this December and two more films are planned in the series.
What’s important to note is the line about materialism was not spoken by Tiny Times‘ villain, but by its hero.
Ask the media what Tiny Times is about and they’ll answer something like the despicable and destructive growth of materialism among China’s young “me generation.” But ask the author of the books and director of the new films, Guo Jingming, and Tiny Times is about the “power of friendship” through the “compromises and struggles in a materialistic world.” Guo himself is only 30.[more]
The original novels which sold tens of millions of copies are one part Sex and the City in the way they celebrate the bright lights, big city life of Shanghai; one part The Devil Wears Prada in their plot; and one part Gossip Girl in their convoluted soap opera dramatics. The series is sometimes called “The Luxury Good Guides” for its exhaustive descriptions of expensive, brand name merchandise available to China’s rich. Some fans actually counted the on-screen appearances for each brand and found Louis Vuitton appeared eight times, Gucci 10 times, Dior 12 times and Christian Louboutin a whopping 21 times.
And yet, compared to the novels, the film version—which is full of Ferragamo, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Marc Jacobs, Moncler, Armani, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Pelle Moda, Neil Barrett, Birkin, Christian Louboutin, Valentino, BMW, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Texture, Sketch Red, and Apple, amongst other brands—actually tones down the ostentation believe it or not. In the film, $1,500 Louis Vuitton “Alma” purses, Hermes “Avalon” extra-large ecru/camel blankets ($2,800) and Alexander McQueen skull handle umbrellas (a comparative bargain at just £350.00 at Harrods), are simply props whereas the books often go on at some length to describe each new product.
One brand that takes on a major role in the film is Nike. In two instances, major characters give Nike products as gifts. Another character, a semi-professional badminton player, appears dressed in Nike, a fact which led some to say, “Nike跟羽毛球无关!” or “Nike has nothing to do with badminton!” As one review pointed out, it should be Li-Ning, not Nike, in the film, as the brand sponsors China’s Lin Dan, the 2012 gold medal winner in the sport.
Tiny Times’ littered landscape of luxury is by no means foreign to Chinese cinema. The earlier 2013 hit Chinese film Finding Mr. Right (北京遇上西雅图) was chock full of expensive luxury brand names. But that film concluded with its protagonist throwing off the shackles of expensive name brands—at one point it had her holding a sad, dockside rummage sale of her luxury bags—and discovering that that luxury consumerism was no substitute for love and affection. To borrow from Tiny Times, Finding Mr. Right would argue that “Materialism is just a pile of sand.”
Tiny Times makes no such case. In fact, the film champions luxury consumerism, casting one of its second generation rich (富二代) female protagonists not just as the story’s ultimate hero but also framing her anti-consumerism, also-rich boyfriend as a naive dolt. One girls-night-out sequence ends with a character hoisting red Valentino bags for everyone in celebration of their friendship. Everyone squeals with delight. The end.