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Why China loves “Warcraft”

Why China can’t get enough of “Warcraft”

...and other insights into international viewing habits, including the Kenyan comedy show that makes fun of everything

...and other insights into international viewing habits, including the Kenyan comedy show that makes fun of everything

October/November 2016

CHINA
Warcraft, the American blockbuster chock full of orcs, elves and very large dogs, tanked in Europe as well as the US. But in China it broke records, taking $157m in its opening week (more than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in its entire China run). That is thanks to a generation of Chinese movie-goers who grew up playing the video games that the film is based on, especially “World of Warcraft”. The massive multiplayer online role-playing game was so popular that internet-addiction camps popped up to “cure” the craze. Fortunately for Hollywood, they didn’t succeed.

KENYA
Who do you make fun of if you’re an African comedian? Fans of Churchill Show, hosted by Daniel “Churchill” Ndambuki, know that the answer is everybody. Nigerians are crooks; so are politicians. Women just want to force men into marriage; men want to avoid it. Between the acts, which are broadcast live, other performers take the stage to advertise Coca-Cola, Horlicks or the lottery. The series, still wildly popular after nearly a decade, recently spawned a special edition, attracting comedians from across the continent. The studio audience is an affluent bunch – but people across Kenya tune in to watch it, liking nothing more than to giggle at the silliness of both their neighbours and their leaders.

UKRAINE
A million Ukrainians work in neighbouring, richer Poland, yet they are mostly unnoticed. At least they were until “Girls from Lviv” aired on Poland’s national broadcaster last autumn, and Poles found themselves hooked on the trials and tribulations of Uliana, Polina, Olya and Svetlana. Now entitled Our Ladies in Warsaw, the series was shown in Ukraine this summer, where it got a less rapturous reception. Some Ukrainians criticised the stereotyping of the four heroines as unregistered cleaning ladies, and wondered why they were played by Polish actresses with dubious Slavonic accents. But at least the series has got viewers on both sides talking about migrant workers.

TURKEY
“Politics, life, it’s so absurd that you find relief in more absurdity,” says Ozan Akyol, co-founder of KALT, a new comedy collective, whose surreal online shorts have a growing following across class and religious lines. One popular series, Which Era Are We Living In?, sends up Turkish TV history documentaries. (Did you know that the Renaissance actually started in provincial Turkey in the 1990s, through the enthusiasms of a local mayor for putting up commemorative statuary?) While avoiding being explicitly political, KALT deftly captures – and skewers – the frustrations of many Turks trying to navigate daily life amid the tumult and tragedy of recent times.

IRAN
Asghar Farhadi has been a darling of the international movie circuit since his acclaimed feature, “A Separation”, became the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. His latest, The Salesman, has delighted Western film festivals through the summer. At home in Iran, though, the film has become a target for conservative critics. Hardliners issued scathing statements about the film’s female star, Taraneh Alidoosti, after images surfaced that appeared to show a feminist tattoo on her arm. But the ensuing Twitterstorm seems to have done the film no lasting harm – nor has its subtle critique of traditional masculinity, which, far from scandalising the general public, has brought the punters flocking in.

INDIA
When “Superstar Rajini” appears on screen, audiences go berserk. In his latest Tamil-language thriller, Kabali, Rajinikanth, a veteran of over 200 films, plays an aging gangster who survives 25 years’ unjust imprisonment in a Malaysian jail to fight for the rights of the Tamil minority. Such was the hype surrounding the release that some south-Indian companies declared a holiday. Fans bathed Rajini’s posters with milk and flung garlands, coins and banknotes when he made his grand entry. The film has smashed box-office records, proving once again that the 65-year-old doyen of Tamil cinema remains an unstoppable force.

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