China Movie Theaters Project Comments On-Screen, Mid-Movie, Exasperatingly

NANTUCKET, MA - JUNE 26: Moviegoers arrive for a screening of 'Monsters University' during the first day of the 18th Annual Nantucket Film Festival on June 26, 2013 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for The Nantucket Film Festival)
Source: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Hate when people talk during movies? If yes, then you’re going to want to avoid catching a film if you're ever in China. Certain theaters in Shanghai and Beijing have now installed live commenting systems that let China's audiences project their thoughts on the big screen while the movie is running. Sound like your worst nightmare or what?

How do these live commenting systems — also called dannu or “bullet screen” for the way the words shoot like bullets across the screen  —work, exactly? Audience members simply share their comments via text message, and the theater then projects the messages either over the film or on an adjacent screen. In some cases, the scrolling commentary can cover the entire screen, completely blocking out the film’s images.  

With this new system, everyone’s opinions are on an equal playing field, and thus everyone in the theater has the chance to become a film critic, even if only for a few hours.

This new live commenting system was first tested alongside the debut of The Legend of Qin, an animated film that opened Aug. 8. For now, movie theaters are only testing the live commentary feature during film screenings that appeal to younger audiences, presumably because those under 24 years old are the prime social media users that might find the new, socially-interactive films intriguing.

And, though the idea of having a running commentary of the film projected on the screen may sound about as appealing to you as having your younger sister chattering nonstop in your ear throughout your favorite movie, the film’s director, Shen Leping, was pretty excited about the new response-share technology:

We are exploring how the response from the audience can affect the movie itself … We are … putting the director and the viewer on equal terms and I think many of the opinions of the viewers are very helpful for filmmakers.

To me, this live commentary feature could go wrong in so many ways: snarky teenagers could use the system to project expletives onto the big screen, industrious businessmen could use the system as a space for free advertising, religious fanatics could use it as a space to launch a diatribe. If this movie theater project doesn’t dwindle into a tangle of corny public marriage proposals and self-important ramblings, I’ll be genuinely shocked.

Images: JHayMesisvip/Flickr, WeAreDC2009/Flickr

Must Reads