Ruzuo: Cinema Paradiso in China

by Echo Xie

Ruzuo.com, a Chinese website that organizes movie screening events, is becoming increasingly popular. In Chinese, “ruzuo” means “take a seat.” Loyal members of Ruzuo like to call themselves Zuoers, or “seat takers.”

What makes Ruzuo stands out is its innovative service. It lets users vote for films they want to watch, and then arranges screenings… wait for it… on the big screen!

Here, let me fill in some background information.

To watch movies on the big screen can be a real luxury in China, especially art movies. Because we don’t have a rating system and do have a sensitive government, movies that are considered appropriate to show in cinemas are limited. Although after joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Chinese government reluctantly loosened some restrictions on foreign movies, or namely, Hollywood movies, it is still rare to import independent and art movies. Nonetheless, people’s enthusiasm about those films never stops. Many people turn to pirated DVDs and downloads; but that was far from enough for real movie lovers.

Now with Ruzuo, people can simply create an order online and wait for enough participants to join. Then the show is on!

Since 2006, more than 400 movies have been shown in this way. Depending on the number in the audience, events are held in various venues from movie theaters to foreign cultural centers (for example, Institut Français De Chine) to small playhouses. I witnessed some of those screenings and found the atmosphere almost heavenly. Everyone turned off their cell phones, everyone stayed patient when old movie prints unexpectedly broke, everyone applauded after the closing credits ran out; everyone talked with each other and thanked the organizer…. Zuoers are gathered together for only one reason: the love of film.

Another intriguing feature about Ruzuo is it somehow created an intimate, exclusive and nostalgic feeling. It takes us back to the time when outdoor movies were popular, when people would grab their stools from home or just sit on the ground, when the projectionists occasionally fell asleep and forgot to change the projector, when people would watch the same movie over and over again until they learned every line by heart.

Through word of mouth, more people are drawn into the circle. This year, the registered users on Ruzuo.com have exceeded 10,000.

Sadly, the two founders who set out from interests other than ambition are not at all prepared for this fast-developing fan base. As demand continues to grow, their ability to satisfy the need seems to have lagged behind. The website started to crash from overload, movie requirements are piling up on their desks, and a group of fans asking for popular movies has also arisen.  The founders are now facing a difficult decision: whether to seek out investments and expand their business or keep down the scale and protect their original goal.

Do all good things have to end?

Let’s just hope the Cinema Paradiso will not be torn down this time.

(The graphic is by Pedro Ribeiro Simões of Lisboa, Portugal via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.  To see a trailer for the Academy Award-winning Cinema Paradiso please check below.)

This entry was posted in China, Films, Internet and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Ruzuo: Cinema Paradiso in China

  1. thejohnjeff says:

    Echo,

    I really enjoyed this! I think this serves as an example of how China is evolving and how civil society there has really begun to thrive.

    I wonder though, has Ruzuo attracted the attention of the government and if so have they made any attempts and restricting content by putting pressure on the founders?

  2. Echo says:

    Well, Ruzuo managed to survive under government’s radar…at least up until now. The prints they borrowed are mainly from China Film Archive(http://www.cfa.gov.cn/), a subordinate bureau to the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. So the film screenings, although seemed underground in form, are actually consented by the government in some level. The sweet and sad thing about Chinese government is, they do want us to enjoy ourselves and have a happy life, as long as we do it in a non-threatening way.
    But as Ruzuo grows bigger and more influential, it is possible that the government may jump out and start to intervene. The biggest challenge of doing anything in China is to maintain the delicate relationship with the government. It’s kinda like playing minesweeper: we all know the risk is high, but so is the reward.

  3. esanvaz says:

    Echo, I loved this so much, it was beautiful! Please take me to a screening when I go to China 🙂

  4. I do not know if Jeff’s question was propelled by this, but I feel compelled to append the comments with this link: http://nyti.ms/uLjwbs .
    This New York Times story tells about a new crackdown from the Chinese government on bloggers and other entertainment and information outlets.

  5. Pingback: Editor’s Notes: Mille Gracias | Sutradhar's Market

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