The Art of Bootleg DVDs

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a real DVD in China. By real, I mean legitimate – one actually produced by the company that owns the film, the sale of which will generate money for all the people involved in making the film according to the provisions of their various contracts.

Ha! That’s a good one.

In the store called Book City, which has three or four locations throughout Shenzhen, there is a DVD section which, presumably, carries official releases. They retail for anywhere from thirty renminbi to upwards of two hundred, which translates to between about five and thirty dollars.

Does anyone actually buy these? Or is it just for show? The selection at the various bootleg outlets – located on neighborhood side streets or in pedestrian malls a step below the fancier malls where Gap and Nike hawk their Chinese-made goods for import prices – is far better than at Book City. They’ve got everything. A few years ago I wrote about seeing The Water Diviner before it was even released in theaters. Subsequently, other leaked films like The Expendables 3 and The Interview (thanks Mr. Kim!) showed up in perfectly legit-looking sleeves, indistinguishable from the other legit-looking sleeves with all manner of alternate cover art and questionable credits.

None of which are actually legit. But perhaps they should be, because I don’t recall ever getting this good of a laugh at Book City, let alone any retail outlet in the U.S.

The bootleggers are pretty good at choosing the right pictures for the DVD sleeves. They also get the names of the stars right most of the time, though matching the actors’ names to the right photos is sometimes too much to ask. When we get to the credits, forget about it. Every other sleeve has some other film’s credits on the back. TITANIC. A Steven Spielberg Film. Starring Harrison Ford and Karen Allen.

And then there are the descriptions. While the Chinese descriptions are probably accurate (I wouldn’t know), the English is often pulled at random from a website and copy-pasted. Sometimes it’s from a good review and it kind of works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Of course, if you don’t want to risk using a negative review because you don’t speak English and don’t know what the writer is saying, you can use Chinglish instead.

Finally, even if you get everything else right, you have to be careful about which font you choose, as with this cover for the 2012 Hong Kong film Love in the (ahem…) Buff.


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