Chinese directors critique Hollywood and China’s cinema
As more Hollywood movie stars show up in China to promote their work in the world’s second-largest box office, two of China’s biggest film directors offered their views on Hollywood and the Chinese cinema landscape.
Directors Ang Lee — a twotime Academy Award winner — and Zhang Yimou spoke to a small audience about “China’s film” and “China’s confidence” at New York’s Cooper Union. The event was sponsored by New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and popular online video portal LeTV, a Beijing-based company that owns Le Vision Pictures, which produced Zhang’s latest film Coming Home. The film is expected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Reflecting on the movies popular in China now, Lee said that on one hand, directors are learning from Hollywood, but on the other, they’re resorting to recycle, “and that’s not good”.
The two directors talked about their upcoming projects, but they divulged very little. Lee said that he is working on a film about boxing, a 3D film that was first reported about last year, noting that there were some “difficulties, money-wise”. He did not elaborate.
Zhang said his next project will be a Hollywood project, a “large-scale” one that’s going to be a “big challenge” to him. Zhang is a household name in China, famous for works like Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers. He also directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The directors were given the opportunity at the event on March 27 to ask each other questions, and Zhang asked Lee about his place in the film industry as someone who can “inhabit both worlds”, as a Chinese director who won Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.
“How do you put the Chinese world into your movies if you’re making a movie for the world and you want the world to understand you?” Zhang asked.
Lee said that the answer lied in “mastering the Hollywood style” and that there are “basic rules of movie-making that we all understand”. He said that moviemakers have to find their own language, and then work on finding a common language with the world.
Both Lee and Zhang took pride in China being the biggest movie market in the world. “Hollywood came to me, I didn’t go to Hollywood,” Zhang said, referring to his next project. “This cooperation with Hollywood will be good promotion for Chinese culture.”
Global box office sales for American movies released around the world were nearly $36 billion in 2013, and China made up more than $3 billion of that, according to figures released by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). China became the first international market to exceed $3 billion in box office, according to MPAA, which represents six major US movie studios.
Lee said that 20, 30 years ago, China didn’t have a movie culture and then suddenly it became an in-demand market. But he said that China’s world of cinema is not without problems. “I feel like culture is something that naturally grows. If you make it grow too fast, it won’t be healthy,” he said, and that movies need to find their audience naturally in order to be healthy.
Directors and moviemakers cannot be either too artistically-inclined or businessoriented, Lee said. “In a market as big as China’s, of course we all want to see it grow healthily, and wish for it to be better than America’s. And America is not necessarily healthy right now, either. I kind of want China to help America a little,” he joked.