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  • Colin Fraser


THREE AND A HALF STARS Take a look behind China's extravagant pre-wedding photo industry.


If you think spending $50,000 on a wedding is a lot of money, you’re not even in the game. Chinese couples are spending in excess of $50,000 for wedding photos alone, and that’s before they’ve even tied the knot. The pre-wedding photo industry has exploded around the desire for sensational photos taken weeks, even months, before the big day: the idea is to avoid inevitable on-day stress and to maximise the chance to ‘create the dream’. Australian photographer and Shanghai resident Olivia Martin-McGuire wanted to find out what all the fuss was about, and documented what she learned.

Less than forty years ago, a lucky couple made do with a single black-and-white photo which doubled as an identify card. It was the long winter of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Today, those with a passport capture young love in exotic locations like the Swiss Alps or Australia’s outback. For the rest (90% of Chinese), studios run with ruthless efficiency to churn out pre-newly-weds posing in faux Euro castles, in faux forests or (literally) under water. Whatever their dream, studio’s like those of Allan Shi, ‘The Godfather of the Wedding Industry’, make it happen. They processes 2000 couples a day, and in so doing have turned rags-to-riches Shi into a multi-millionaire.

Martin-McGuire reveals a mind-boggling industry as she follows a number of couples, young and old, in their pursuit of documented love. The sheer audacity of the industry is one thing (photo packages can cost $500,000), what keeps you watching is her interest in the relationships behind the camera. Like one mother’s concern that her unmarried daughter, at 28, has become a ‘leftover’. Most compelling are the stories of Mao’s generation who finally get to create a dream for themselves - one such couple are celebrating 69 years of married life.

Shot with a photographer’s eye, CHINA LOVE is a beautifully crafted and compelling documentary that unravels some of the mysteries of new China, while creating some of its own (how do these people afford such extravagant photo shoots?) Despite some wobbly pacing and an occasionally intrusive score, CHINA LOVE has the glitzy appeal of reality TV at its most excessive, but is carried on a large heart that makes you care about those you’ve come to see.

Released by Demand Film. For session times visit

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