Onscreen Text Messages Appear in Chinese Movie Theaters

Select movie theaters in Chinese cities have begun experimenting with “bullet screens” (or “danmu”) — a new model in which audience members can comment on the film via text messages and have their impressions projected directly onto the screen. The experience is targeting young viewers who often have difficulty being away from their tablets and mobile phones. The experiment currently involves theaters in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai, in addition to smaller cities such as Hangzhou.

“The inspiration behind the idea appears to be that it mimics that of watching a movie on mobile media, which is how most Chinese people watch films, with people sending messages about what they like or dislike about the movie,” explains The Hollywood Reporter.

cinema“People like it right now, as it’s a new thing,” said the manager of the Luxin Cinema in the Shandong province. “In the long term, it might affect people’s concentration. We are trying to continue with some bullet screen activities and play some films that young people like. Time will tell.”

“The idea behind ‘bullet screens’ originated in Japan, where they were first popularized by a Japanese ACG (animation, comics, games) video portal called Nicodou, which later became the inspiration for similar Chinese ACG video sites such as Bilibili,” reports The New York Times.

While some may find the comments distracting, proponents suggest the experience is more about the overall social experience and the opportunity to joke with a group about the video, rather than passively viewing the content.

“Even when the videos are boring, the viewers are getting together and entertaining each other,” said Hiroyuki Nishimura, founder of Nicodou, in a 2008 interview with Wired.

During the past month, theaters have been experimenting with “bullet screen” showings of films such as “The Legend of Qin” and “Tiny Times 3.” Reaction on social media sites has so far been mixed, ranging from those who enjoyed the interactivity (“This is a real way of watching a film. For us, it is exciting and fun…”) — to the negative (“The point of watching a film in the theater is to put away whatever is in your hand and focus on the film. Sometimes, it blocks the screen…”).

“We wanted to create a social experience and promote it among young people,” said Enya Sun, a PR manager at Le Vision Pictures, distributor of “Tiny Times 3.”

“If it was a Zhang Yimou film,” she said, “we probably wouldn’t do it, because it would be less focused on young people. But if it’s a movie oriented to very young people, we could potentially do it on a national scale.”

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to community member Lee Lanselle and ETC’s Phil Lelyveld for forwarding this news item.