The discovery of a deadly new virus triggers a worldwide panic as authorities scramble to understand and contain it. This doesn’t just describe our current state of affairs — it’s also the plot to Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion. And while you might think it’d be the last movie anyone in China would want to see right now, it’s actually featuring consistently in the most-watched charts on the country’s main streaming platforms.
On ratings site Douban, reviews for the film — which stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law and is largely based on the SARS outbreak — have been sporadic over the years, but have leapt into life since late January, as has a discussion board for the film on the same site.
“Back in 2011, this film seemed a bit flimsy — no real climax, or emotive moments, or special effects,” writes one recent reviewer. “Watching again in February 2020, it seems like a prediction.”
“The first time I saw this film, I didn’t realize that I would end up being in it,” comments another.
On the discussion forum for the film, one post asks whether Soderbergh has time-travelled before sharing a series of captioned screenshots from the movie that it likens to events in China — from the use of sports stadia as makeshift hospitals to a character it calls “America’s Dr Li.”
One review predicts that China will definitely release its own version of Contagion “once the epidemic is over,” a sentiment that was also aired by some online after Parasite‘s Oscar win this past weekend. “All the elements are there,” writes the reviewer, “it’s just a question of who will write it and who will direct it.”
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The use of the film for discussing the issues China is currently facing echoes that of HBO show Chernobyl, with some commenters using it as a vehicle to make political points. Comparisons between the Chinese government’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak and the Soviet Union’s response to the Ukrainian nuclear disaster led to Douban restricting access to the show’s discussion forum.
It also echoes a trend seen across the world. Contagion‘s rise up the charts of streaming platforms such as Tencent Video, iQIYI, and Youku in China has been mirrored in other countries including the US, where the film sat at the top of iTunes’ movie charts just over a week ago.
And it’s not just Contagion seeing a sudden bump in interest. Joining it in the top 10 charts on a number of streaming platforms in China is 2013 Korean drama The Flu, which features a similar storyline of a virus outbreak causing chaos. In this case, it’s a deadly strain of H5N1, which leads to city-wide shutdowns and general panic.
One Douban user commenting on the film, which has an overall score of 7.8 on the site compared to Contagion‘s 6.9, writes that, “If these were normal times I’d say this film is over the top and too dark. But now this world is forcing us to reject films that evade important messages, and instead to embrace the flames, see that which we might not want to see, and curse all that should be cursed.”
Another review simply reads, “I came to watch this the day Wuhan was put under lockdown.”
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