China set for star­ring role in showbiz

Coun­try’s fast-grow­ing film in­dus­try poised for another break­through like Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon, Sun Ye re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

In the movie Hol­ly­wood Ad­ven­tures, shown in cine­mas on the Chi­nese main­land in June, three in­gen­u­ous Chi­nese sud­denly find them­selves in a be­wil­der­ing Hol­ly­wood. Fum­bling through movie fes­ti­vals and cul­ture clashes, the trio make their way through the mo­tion pic­ture cap­i­tal of the world with out­ra­geous laughs.

But another type of very real foray into Hol­ly­wood is also un­der­way. The bur­geon­ing Chi­nese film in­dus­try is test­ing and ex­port­ing its in­flu­ence, and these ven­tures, in­clud­ing over­seas col­lab­o­ra­tions of un­prece­dented scale, are play­ing a key role in the mar­ket.

At the be­gin­ning of April, it took in 10 bil­lion yuan ($1.56 bil­lion) in less than 100 days. Grow­ing at an an­nual rate of roughly 35 per­cent, it is poised to sur­pass the United States in box of­fice re­ceipts a few years to be­come the world’s big­gest movie mar­ket. Ac­cord­ing to Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val of­fi­cials, last year more than 800 mil­lion Chi­nese movie­go­ers went to the cin­ema.

But for all the more than 500 do­mes­tic films and bil­lions of yuan they brought in lo­cally last year, only a small frac­tion of those films are seen over­seas. Last year, Chi­nese films made a com­par­a­tively mea­ger 1.8 bil­lion yuan out of its home­land. In com­par­i­son, US movies’ do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional rev­enue, re­spec­tively, amount­ing to $10.3 bil­lion and $14.6 bil­lion in 2014, ac­cord­ing to re­search by En­tgroup, an en­ter­tain­ment mar­ket re­searcher.

The im­bal­ance may be­gin to change, though.

“In the next 12 months, we’ll see a Chi­nese film that will sweep the world,” said Ben­nett Pozil, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent at the Cal­i­for­nia-based East West Bank, who has over­seen fi­nanc­ing for many Chi­nese pic­tures, from Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon by Ang Lee, and Hero by Zhang Yi­mou, to John Woo’s The Cross­ing and Skip­trace, which starred Jackie Chan.

Pozil saw how the 2000 film Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon in­tro­duced Chi­nese films to Amer­i­cans and in­trigued them. It’s still the largest-gross­ing for­eign lan­guage film in the US by far.

“Another film at its level is com­ing along,” Pozil said. “The chal­lenge is whether we can build on it.”

He is not the only one who thinks so.

“It’s not just a fan­tasy that in a year’s time, we will have a huge film of in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence,” said Ding Yap­ing, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Film and Tele­play at the Chi­nese Na­tional Academy of Arts.

Ding added: “It’s a nat­u­ral out­come of the Chi­nese film mar­ket’s con­tin­ual growth. But at the same time, it’s most likely to be a co-pro­duc­tion pro­ject that in­volves con­tri­bu­tions from dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pants. It would come from an in­ter­na­tional set­ting.”

Such set­tings are be­com­ing com­mon­place.

Take the film Hol­ly­wood Ad­ven­tures. Re­leased by Bei­jing En­light Media, it was scripted and di­rected by a Hol­ly­wood team (Justin Lin of the Fast and Fu­ri­ous fran­chise is a pro­ducer). It starred three top Chi­nese ac­tors and was filmed in Cal­i­for­nia. The Amer­i­can East West Bank put up $13.5 mil­lion for pro­duc­tion.

Be­yond in­di­vid­ual projects, in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion in dif­fer­ent ar­eas is com­ing along, too.

IMAX Corp, the Cana­dian com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in gi­antscreen tech­nol­ogy, joined with CMC Cap­i­tal Part­ners, a Chi­nese media and en­ter­tain­ment fi­nan­cial com­pany, to set up a China Film In­vest­ment Fund in mid-June.

The fund was cre­ated to help pro­duce high-qual­ity Chi­nese films and pro­mote them to the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Xin­hua News Agency.

Hu­nan TV, one of China’s big­gest broad­cast­ers, in March en­tered an agree­ment with the Lion­s­gate film stu­dio to in­vest $1.5 bil­lion in co-pro­duc­tions in the next three years. The deal also al­lows each the use of the other’s mas­sive dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels.

Shang­hai-based Fo­sun In­ter­na­tional Ltd last year in­vested in Jeff Robi­nov’s Stu­dio 8 in the hopes of ac­quir­ing “Hol­ly­wood’s ad­vanced and so­phis­ti­cated film­mak­ing ex­per­tise and tech­nique, movie con­cept and tech­nol­ogy, and com­plete pro­duc­tion and pub­li­ca­tion sys­tems” for the China mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to a com­pany state­ment.

Huayi Broth­ers Media Corp and Bona Film Group bought China Lion Film Dis­tri­bu­tion in 2011 to gain ac­cess to the North Amer­i­can mar­ket. And the list goes on. Such col­lab­o­ra­tion doesn’t just mean en­try to Hol­ly­wood and learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for Chi­nese. It works both ways.

“Hol­ly­wood al­ways searches for rev­enue, so if you look at stu­dio trends you’ll see Hol­ly­wood run­ning to­ward one item (in a cer­tain pe­riod) all the time. Now the item is China,” said Pozil. The East West Bank has also fi­nanced the Hu­nan TV-Lion­s­gate deal.

“What we fo­cus on is re­la­tion­ships. We don’t pick the projects, we pick the re­la­tion­ships,” Pozil said, ex­plain­ing their suc­cess in fo­cus­ing on the Chi­nese film mar­ket.

“The Chi­nese film in­dus­try has stepped into the age of in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal,” said Ding, the film in­dus­try ex­pert. “When com­bined with the force of the In­ter­net, it’s nat­u­ral to ex­pect the in­flu­ence of Chi­nese film to grow in the in­ter­na­tional arena.”

That said, there are still dif­fi­cul­ties ahead for Chi­nese film to reach the global ac­cep­tance it craves.

The In­sti­tute of Film and Tele­play started a three-year na­tional re­search pro­ject in 2013 on strate­gies for Chi­nese films to ex­tend their reach abroad. It re­cently fin­ished a sur­vey on over­seas au­di­ences for Chi­nese films.

“In the age in which In­ter­net think­ing pre­vails, we should first ex­am­ine the au­di­ence to see what it is that they hope to see,” said Ding, who heads the study, in re­sponse to China Daily.

Some 300 peo­ple were sur­veyed, most in the tar­get au­di­ence age range of 20 to 30. The study found that though Chi­nese films are well liked, it’s the kung fu pic­tures and his­tor­i­cal films that draw the most at­ten­tion, even though pic­tures of other gen­res are avail­able.

More­over, for young­sters, go­ing to the movies is be­com­ing out­dated, given that the ma­jor­ity (60 per­cent) see Chi­nese films online. They have a big in­ter­est in the cul­ture be­hind the films, but they don’t al­ways find what they’re look­ing for. Chi­nese films of­ten de­ter them with lan­guage and a sto­ry­telling logic un­fa­mil­iar to them, Ding ex­plained.

“This shows how a movie go­ing out to an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence should ap­peal to them,” Ding said. “The story has to be good, but the nar­ra­tives should also have an ac­cept­able logic.

“Be­sides, for Chi­nese films to gain in­ter­na­tional ac­cep­tance, per­haps it’s time to get over the cin­ema re­lease model now that the In­ter­net has taken over,” Ding said.

“If you stand in the viewer’s shoes, and de­sign prac­ti­cal ways to ap­peal to and com­mu­ni­cate with him, it’s much eas­ier to have your film ac­cepted over­seas,” Ding said. “Af­ter all, it’s al­ways cus­tomers first.”

Movies of­ten are the most ef­fec­tive ve­hi­cles to trans­mit a cul­ture. As China tries to ex­port its cul­tural in­flu­ence, it is pro­mot­ing its films through par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals, screen­ings and sim­i­lar events.

Last year alone, 345 Chi­nese films were en­tered in var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals. More than 450 Chi­nese films were shown over­seas last year at China-themed screen­ing events. These con­trib­uted to over­seas rev­enue growth of around 30 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by En­tgroup.

“The ‘go­ing-out’ en­ter­prise has borne fruit, but it lags be­hind the gi­ant do­mes­tic mar­ket. That’s why we will con­tinue to work very hard in the com­ing years to amp up its in­flu­ence,” Ding said. “Keep up the mo­men­tum, and we will be im­pressed with China’s im­age over­seas.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The movie Hol­ly­woodAd­ven­tures was re­leased by a Chi­nese com­pany while scripted and di­rected by a Hol­ly­wood team. Cal­i­for­nia-based East West Bank put up $13.5 mil­lion for the film pro­duc­tion.

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