If you don’t have time to start that movie you’ve always wanted to watch, a new set of TikTok accounts has a solution. “This woman knocked over everything in the house, then drew 800 cc of her own blood,” a robotic voice narrated over a clip from the film Gone Girl. The video, titled “High IQ woman revenge for cheating husband,” summarizes the two-and-a-half-hour film in just seven minutes. A 48-second clip of The Danish Girl summarized the film as “The wife let the husband dress up as a woman, and he is addicted to it.”
Chinese creators use translation apps, dubbing software, and VPNs — TikTok is blocked in China — to help viewers speed-watch movies and TV dramas in English, Spanish, and Bahasa Indonesia. Despite the translation errors and robotic narrations, each clip garners anywhere between a few thousand to millions of views, generating 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 (TikTok’s Chinese counterpart), Kuaishou, and Bilibili. And now, as the domestic video industry becomes more competitive, creators capitalizing on their popularity are taking these videos to the banned-in-China platform, TikTok.
“Movies and TV are for everyone from everywhere in the world,” Wilson, a movie-clip producer in the eastern province of Jiangxi, told Rest of World. Wilson, who declined to give his full name due to privacy concerns, says he makes about $1,400 a month from his 10 TikTok accounts. “We all cry, laugh and complain for the same things.”
For his TikTok accounts, Wilson downloads movie and TV clips from Chinese platforms like Douyin. He writes his summary script in Chinese, uses the translation service DeepL to turn it into English, then generates a new voiceover with the dubbing app Moyin. Eventually, Wilson assembles everything in Adobe Premiere, making sure to remove a few frames or horizontally flip others to evade TikTok’s plagiarism detection.
Another TikTok movie editor, Bi, who only gave his last name due to privacy concerns, told Rest of World that he makes up to £300 ($342) per movie clip, using two TikTok movie accounts “based” in the U.K. with a VPN. Popular clips include those from British shows like Peppa Pig, but he’s even found success on those accounts with Chinese shows like 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 offer paid courses teaching others their craft. Bi said many of his students were stay-at-home mothers who were looking for an easy way to make money in their spare time. Wilson said he has trained more than 100 people, and has recently started making movie 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 prolonged copyright disputes. In 2021, streaming platforms iQiyi, Tencent Video, and Youku protested movie and drama clips on short video apps like Douyin. Tencent later sued Douyin, demanding hundreds of millions of dollars for copyright infringement. In December 2021, the China Netcasting Services Association, which issues censorship directives, ordered short video apps to ban unlicensed film and TV clips.
But the crackdown did not stop people from posting new clips, sometimes from Thai, Korean and American dramas, reasoning that copyright holders from outside China are less likely to police Chinese social media. Some local streaming companies opted to work with short video apps instead of battling them: in July, iQiyi allowed Douyin users to use its content in videos. In return, Douyin is adding a link under the videos which can direct users back to the original work on iQiyi.
Larry Zerner, a copyright and entertainment attorney in Los Angeles, told Rest of World that American studios would also likely explore licensing agreements with TikTok if derivative works became more popular. It would not be worth the effort for the companies to pursue compensation from overseas creators, he said. “It’s just like you are playing whack-a-mole.”
The summary videos have amassed a steadily growing audience, keen to finish whole movies or drama series in just a few minutes. Some express interest in watching the full thing, posting comments under the videos asking for the titles of the movies, and swapping reviews with each other. Even translation errors become fodder for entertainment in the community: one Chinese account summarizing the British film Toast seemed to contain an unusual (and, viewers felt, unnecessary) amount of swearing. “The narrator had a bad day,” one commenter noted.