The other day I was having a discussion with some brothers and sisters from church about Chinese Christians films. I shared about why I think that, even with all the technical improvements made so far, I still consider the quality of Chinese Christian films to be so poor.
Recently I watched the film “The Prestige.” Coincidentally, it was made by the same director-actor team behind “Dark Knight,” the movie at the top of the box office. It happens that Christian Bale is my most favorite actor, and Christopher Nolan is one of my most favorite directors. It’s also quite co-incidental that both of their names start with “Christ”…
Anyways, the main theme of “The Prestige” is “obsession.” It’s about two magicians trying to one-up each other, eventually leading to tragedy. By the end of the movie, you’ll realize the lengths to which these two people go through to fulfill their obsessions. In fact, for one of them, he spent every second of his life setting up his magic trick. In one memorable scene, one of the magicians just invented a successful magic trick and debuted it to an audience who gave it a big ovation. However, as soon as he went back into the dressing room, he already started becoming dissatisfied with it and wanted to find the next great magic trick. He’s obsessed to always do better than other people and better than himself all the time, and he couldn’t even enjoy his success.
What does all that have to do with Chinese Christian films? The Chinese Christian films I’ve seen more or less follow this formula: (a) non-Christian person faces a certain life crisis (personal disaster, disease, fear, family issues, etc.); (b) person becomes Christian; (c) person is happy and helps other people. In this formula, people view someone else go through an “evangelistic” process. The filmmaker hopes that the viewer can identify with this person’s situation and make the same response to accept Christ.
But are we losing opportunities to make use of the powerful medium of film media? Are we losing the opportunities to look beyond evangelism and actually fulfill the Great Commission to its fullest extent by also making disciples?
One of the most important things media can contribute is helping people look at reality under a microscope. When you go into a theater to watch Superman, you’re suspending reality for a couple of hours, and in those two hours you allow the possibility that people can fly and have superhuman strength. In other words, people can actually let go of their most basic human assumptions in a movie theater. Likewise, although the culture is entrenched in postmodernism and relativism which have certain conflicts with Christian faith, there is at least one place where people can suspend their assumption of these things and really view an artistic presentation which presents alternative lifeviews, and that place is the theater.
This brings me back to “The Prestige.” The Prestige helps me look at the theme of obsession in a whole different light, and make me realize that my own obsessions, even though they may not be as bad as the magicians’ obsessions, can also be quite ridiculous and detrimental to my spiritual and emotional well-being. I long to see a Christian film which deals with cultural issues in such a way that they help people challenge their own assumptions about their core values. I long to see a Christian film which helps people view the world from biblical point of view, even from how God sees the world. It goes beyond trying to make the viewer identify with someone else’s “situation,” but to engage in disciple-makiong of the viewers to inch them closer to a proper Christian lifeview.
Will I be able to see a quality Chinese Christian film like that in my lifetime? I really hope so.