Anatomy of a Pirate DVD

Ah the ubiquitous DVD store. There are a multitude of DVD shops serving up pretty much everything. Oh yea and at awesome prices! Buying DVDs was too cost prohibitive in the states for me but here in Shanghai pirates produce very high quality discs and packaging with all sorts of subtitles for rock bottom prices. Every English release has Chinese along with English subtitles that can be chosen and other movies will have some European language subtitles. Sometimes (but not that often) I’ve found DVDs with 20 different language tracks. I remember seeing Finnish , Russian , Swedish, Portuguese, Thai , Japanese , Polish ,  and others I can’t think of now. Depending on the store, prices on the pirate discs range from $1 to $3 USD. Back in the U.S, if Hollywood wasn’t charging $15-25 USD for DVDs I’d be more inclined to buy. Gimme like $7 and I think that’s alright. Having the actual disc, case,and packing is nice and with new releases are often released on disc while the movie is still in theaters and not officially released in the US. I like being able to have the tangible, physical , goods in hand and is a reason I buy DVDs here.  The high prices and ease of acquiring movies through the interwebz just prevents me from buying them back home.

Several different styles of stores are available. The cheapest option available are the mobile DVD units. Various entrepreneurs have loaded up carts with bicycles attached and set up in high foot traffic areas , such as metro stations and shopping centers in the evenings. If the local security or police want to try to do a little shakedown about business permits then the vendor can hop right on the bike and whisk the entire store away.These carts are stocked with many Chinese movies/tv series , and a small selection of new English language releases. DVDs are in the range of 5-7 RMB.

The next step up is the small local DVD store. These places have fixed locations and times and slighty higher prices due to the overhead cost of rent.Every neighborhood has one (or more) The bigger space also allows for a greater variety of movies/shows. They usually have many Chinese releases , the new English releases , a good selection of current TV series & documentaries, and usually a small selection of Spanish/German/French/Russian/ etc. films. Sometimes collections are also put together. Want the entire 007 collection in one dvd flip case in one giant box? The entire Jim Jarmusch movie collection in one? While every neighborhood has these,you can find some that are better than others. Some have pretty impressive collections of movies and constantly surprise me with the obscure/indie/old movie selections. Prices can be from 7-10 RMB a disc.

Finally we have the huge specialty DVD shops. These stores can be really big and have huge stocks of Chinese/Japanese/Korean movies/ shows. Large European language selections and giant English sections. All major releases and a massive selection of older movies are there. The place I occasionally visit even has a music CD selection. These places usually have nicer cases (plastic DVD box instead of cardboard slip) and therefore can be more expensive . The place I visit is 15RMB for one disc but that still is only ~$2.50 USD.

Now onto the actual discs and packaging themselves. These aren’t your friends burned movie and gave it you kinda thing. Disc menus, regular subtitles, title screens, bonus features , scene selections , and even sometimes the USA anti-piracy warning screens are all there. I’ve had an occasional disc that had bonus features on the title menu but they weren’t selectable. Pirates do a great job , the packages , discs, subtitle options are usually pretty awesome. It’s pretty rare but I occasionally have a dud disc or the packaging will claim a certain subtitle is available when in fact it is most certainly not. Again , It’s pretty rare. The pirates know there is money to be made off of DVDs and they provide high quality goods. The English subtitles are spot-on , the Spanish subtitles are right from what I can tell ( I can read Spanish pretty well) , and the Chinese subtitles are usually pretty good. I can read some Chinese and it makes sense for the most part but I have been informed sometimes there is a bit of trouble with the translations.

The packaging usually consists of an outer plastic slip-cover for protection and then an inner cardboard slip with a front and back cover. On the inside is a bonus DVD box sized movie poster and then on the inside of that is a cardboard pouch for the DVD with information on the director , country , subtitles , and languages available. Finally the DVD has a thin plastic slip that fits on the DVD for a final level of protection. The more expensive ones have the plastic dvd case with an interior cardboard sleeve and the final plastic slip protection.

Living in Shanghai has introduced me to lots of movies I’ve never seen before and let me build up a nice little collection. Now that it’s November and we can feel the winter slowly creeping in and getting ready to pounce, I’m more appreciative of these stores. The biting, humid cold makes outdoor play a little less appealing and cozy movie watching evenings are in. In until the spring pops in and the bikes get ready to go again.



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