TikTok creators condense Hollywood movies like Gone Girl and Danish Girl in minutes and get millions of views
If you don’t have time to start that movie you’ve always wanted to see, a new set of TikTok accounts offers a solution. “This woman knocked over everything in the house and then drew 800 cc of her own blood,” a robotic voice narrated over a clip from the film Ex girlfriend. The video, titled “High IQ Woman Gets Revenge For Cheating On Husband,” encapsulates the two-and-a-half-hour film in just seven minutes. A 48 second clip of The Danish girl summed up the film as follows: “The woman makes the man dress up as a woman, and he’s addicted to it.”
Chinese YouTubers are using translation apps, dubbing software and VPNs – TikTok is blocked in China – to help viewers quickly watch movies and TV dramas in English, Spanish and Bahasa Indonesia. Despite the translation errors and robotic narration, each clip receives anywhere from a few thousand to millions of views and generates a decent income for the creators. The Danish girl Summary video currently has more than four million views.
Turning movies into short videos has been popular in the Chinese-speaking world for years on video platforms like Douyin (the Chinese equivalent of TikTok), Kuaishou, and Bilibili. And now, as the domestic video industry becomes more competitive, creators capitalizing on its popularity are bringing these videos to the China-banned platform TikTok.
“Movies and TV are for everyone from anywhere in the world,” said Wilson, a film clip producer in eastern Jiangxi Province Rest of the world. Wilson, who declined to give his full name for privacy reasons, says he makes about $1,400 a month from his 10 TikTok accounts. “We all cry, laugh and complain about the same things.”
For his TikTok accounts, Wilson downloads movies and TV clips from Chinese platforms like Douyin. He writes his synopsis screenplay in Chinese, translates it into English using the DeepL translation service, and then generates a new voiceover using the Moyin dubbing app. Finally, Wilson puts everything together in Adobe Premiere, making sure to remove some frames or flip others horizontally to evade TikTok’s plagiarism detection.
Another TikTok film editor, Bi, who only gave his last name for privacy reasons, recounted rest of the world that he’s making up to £300 ($342) per movie clip using two TikTok movie accounts that are “based” in the UK and a VPN. Popular clips include those from UK shows like Peppa Pigbut he’s even found success with Chinese shows like on those accounts Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf. “On TikTok, you get traffic from all over the world,” he said. “As long as you keep editing and posting, someone will be watching.”
Bi and Wilson also run paid classes teaching others their craft. Bi said many of his students are stay-at-home moms looking for an easy way to earn money in their free time. Wilson said he has trained more than 100 people and has recently started shooting film clips in German, French, Spanish and Bahasa Indonesia.
TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.
In China, the popularity of these derivative works has led to protracted copyright disputes. In 2021, streaming platforms iQiyi, Tencent Video and Youku protested film and drama clips in short video apps like Douyin. Tencent later sued Douyin, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars for copyright infringement. In December 2021, the China Netcasting Services Association, which issues censorship policies, ordered short video apps to ban unlicensed film and TV clips.
But the crackdown didn’t stop people from releasing new clips, sometimes from Thai, Korean and American dramas, on the grounds that copyright holders from outside China are less likely to monitor Chinese social media. Some local streaming companies chose to work with short video apps instead of fighting them: In July, iQiyi allowed Douyin users to use its content in videos. In return, Douyin adds a link under the videos that can take users back to the original work on iQiyi.
Larry Zerner, a copyright and entertainment attorney in Los Angeles, narrates rest of the world that American studios would also likely explore licensing deals with TikTok as derivative works became more popular. It would not be worthwhile for companies to demand compensation from foreign authors, he said. “It’s like you’re playing mole.”
The synopsis videos have amassed an ever-growing audience eager to complete entire movies or drama series in just minutes. Some show interest in watching the full video, posting comments under the videos asking about the titles of the films, and exchanging reviews. Even translation errors become entertainment fodder in the community: a Chinese account summarizing the British film toast appeared to contain an unusual (and, viewers felt, unnecessary) amount of swearing. “The narrator was having a bad day,” noted one commenter.