Many of the bad reviews focused on the sexism and problematic jokes in the Chinese comedy. Some of the highly cited sexist lines include “A woman only has few years for her golden age,” and “There’s a lot more girls that are unused, clean.”

“After breakups, the first thing women do is to get drunk and have a big cry… whereas the first thing men do is to liberate his lower body, picking up girls at nightclubs and karaokes,” is how one Douban user summarizes the plot.

The film is a “typical patriarchal brainwash” that can never be shown on big screens overseas, one user notes. Another says the moral of the story is that “as long as you are a woman, there will always be a good guy to accept you, and take care of you for the whole life.”

But Ex-File 3 did resonate with a large group of viewers, who wrote in reviews that they cried over scenes involving break-ups and lost love reunions. According to data from ticket-booking site Maoyan, women under age 24, who live in smaller cities, and have education levels lower than an undergraduate degree, form the majority (link in Chinese) of the film’s audience.

Behind this is the bigger picture that youngsters living in smaller cities have become the driving force for China’s box office growth. Already, this demographic group contributed nearly 20 billion yuan (about $3 billion) to China’s 56 billion yuan (about $8.6 billion) box-office total for 2017, up 22% from a year earlier, according to some estimates.

And another lesson is that what has proved a success in mainstream Western culture won’t necessarily work in China, and what has become taboo in Hollywood won’t be a problem for Chinese studios, either.

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