Taming the Micro-Film, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the SARFT

In the past two years, micro-films has rose considerably in popularity in the Chinese internet sphere. A more marketable, unique title that the Chinese is using for short films, micro-films have become a way for both professional and amateur filmmakers to do what they love without going through those troubling steps needed to make a feature film.

It appeared to be a win-win situation for both content creator and content distributors: Video sites like Youku, Tudou, and LeTV will have content they can put advertising on, and filmmakers can tell the stories they want to tell to a limitless amount of audience on the internet, even at only a few minutes at a time.


As a result, micro-films became more than just kid’s play. Not only did young directors get a chance to shine, big-time directors and stars like Jiang Wen and Huang Bo made their own micro-films, both of which would be promoted and passed from one netizen to another on social media sites like Sina Weibo and RenRen. Youku also took the micro-film trend to the next level, creating the BEAUTIFUL 2012 micro-film omnibus, featuring shorts by Ann Hui, Tsai Ming Liang, Gu Chang Wei, and Korean director Kim Tae Yong (LATE AUTUMN). They’re also to continue that project with COURAGE, commissioning seven additional shorts from young, established filmmakers like STARRY STARRY NIGHT director Tom Lin and Hong Kong’s Patrick Kong. 


While there was a reasonable amount of self-discipline among the filmmakers and the video sites to make sure micro-films stay away from objectionable content (no graphic nudity, no gore, etc.), they realize that the lack of censorship for micro-films mean that they can go a little further. Huang Bo’s SPECIAL SERVICE, for example, is about an unlikely friendship formed between a suicidal businessman and an annoying prostitute with the heart of gold. Gu Chang Wei’s LONG TOU features a scene of an older woman talking about desecrating bodies of dead infants during the Cultural Revolution. The comedic punchline of one comedic micro-film even involves an old man putting on a public screening of SEX AND ZEN 3D (a pirated copy, of course). In other words, as far as ideological censorship go, micro-films created an untamed wild west.

All that is about to change.

On July 9th, China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and, Television put out a memo calling for the strengthening of censorship of all video content uploaded on the web – including both micro-films and web series. However, the memo leaves the censorship responsibility to the video sites themselves, likely because SARFT knows they don’t even have the resources to deal with every single micro-film and web series out there. While video sites already have their own censorship process in place, this is essentially the equivalent of the cops knocking on your door telling you to turn the noise down before they go in there and do it themselves. The party isn’t entirely over, but it certainly has the potential to become less fun.

On the other hand, there is actually a silver lining, and that’s the fact that micro-film (or short film – however you want to call it) has finally gained legitimacy. Once associated with film school homework in this part of the world, short films rarely receive any attention aside from film festivals. Thanks to whoever created the term micro-film, short films have suddenly become fashionable again. Thanks to the rise of legit video sites like LeTV and the clean-up of pirated materials from popular sites like Youku and Tudou, short film is now a 100 million yuan-plus enterprise. And now, thanks to SARFT, short films haven’t just become fashionable again and profitable for the first time – it’s proven to become something people actually watch and possibly become influenced by.

With each feature film still making hundreds of millions of yuan, there will always be enough people to keep the cinema exhibition system alive. However, the success of micro-films have shown that there are also people looking for other ways to get their dose of stories without having to shell out overpriced movie tickets and subpar multiplex experiences. The best part is that now micro-film creators can also stand side-by-side with feature film makers and proclaim themselves to be victims of the government censorship machine. The line to sign up for an overseas film festival appearance begins around the corner.   

Jiang Wen’s Micro-Film


Pepsi’s 2012 Lunar New Year Micro-Film


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