Big-bud­getiGirl tests wa­ters in on­line film mar­ket

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - ByWANG KAIHAO wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Hong Kong com­mer­cial film di­rec­tor Wong Jing is known for his close ties to a cer­tain mar­ket. When he an­nounced in Bei­jing on Tues­day that he will co­op­er­ate with on­line-video gi­ant iQiyi for his up­com­ing sci-fi film, his mes­sage was clear: For­get about gen­eral in­ter­est. This is a film only for young ne­ti­zens.

Pro­duced by­Wong, iGirl, which is ba­si­cally about a man’s ad­ven­tures with his ro­bot girl­friend, will be re­leased on iQiyi in­March.

Nei­ther the book­ing of lead ac­tor Ekin Cheng, who is an idol for the gen­er­a­tion that grew up in the 1990s, nor the 10 mil­lion yuan ($1.52 mil­lion) bud­get seem out­landish in to­day’s boom­ing film mar­ket.

How­ever, when the film will only be avail­able for the web­site’s pay­ing users, it looks dif­fer­ent.

China has never seen a film tailored for the In­ter­net with so­many big names plus such a bud­get.

Nev­er­the­less, iGirl will also be re­leased in Hong Kong, South­east Asia and other mar­kets be­yond the main­land via tra­di­tional chan­nels like cin­e­mas and pay TV.

“Ev­ery­one now con­sid­ers him­self a di­rec­tor, whether he’s a TV an­chor or writer,” Wong says. “As a di­rec­tor, maybe I should also find a part-time job.”

Per­haps his part-time job step onto a new­bat­tle­field.

“China’s In­ter­net tech­nol­ogy has ma­tured enough to sup­port a mar­ket that’s just tak­ing off (on­line films),” Wong says.

It is only a start forWong’s se­ries of co­pro­duc­tions with iQiyi. As the coun­try’s on­line-video view­ers, who were once known for in­sist­ing only on free on­line view­ing, have nur­tured newhabits, the two sides are con­fi­dent to take the ad­ven­tur­ous step to­ward paid-for con­tent.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port on China’s paid-for on­line-video mar­ket, based on data from in­dus­try an­a­lyst iRe­search and the China In­ter­net Net­work In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, the mar­ket was val­ued nearly 1.2 bil­lion yuan by Septem­ber 2015. IQiyi had 10 mil­lion pay­ing users by De­cem­ber.

“We ex­pect the film

is to

will bring more pay­ing users for us,” says Yang Xianghua, vice-pres­i­dent of iQiyi, adding that more de­riv­a­tive prod­ucts will be de­vel­oped.

“Per­haps, the up­com­ing film will turn a new page for the in­dus­try. On­line films will thus have higher qual­ity.”

Ac­cord­ing to Yang, a fea­ture­length on­line film in­China typ­i­cally cost 500,000 to 800,000 yuan in 2014, but about 20 per­cent of films made last year cost more than 1 mil­lion yuan.

“Un­doubt­edly, it will keep ris­ing in 2016,” he says.

Li Yan­song, head of iQiyi Pic­tures, which runs the group’s film busi­ness, says: “Many pre­vi­ous on­line films were not care­ful with de­tails. They usu­ally re­stricted them­selves to cer­tain gen­res.”

Some cult film-like pro­duc­tions, such as those fea­tur­ing ghosts and evil themes and even soft-core sex, once dom­i­nated the mar­ket. But both Yang and Li think an in­flux of in­vest­ment will di­ver­sify the gen­res and breed more main­stream prod­ucts.

“For ex­am­ple, more spe­cial ef­fects will be in­tro­duced,” Li says. “That will al­low gen­res like sci-fi to be­come pop­u­lar.”

Wong be­lieves the new­plat­form will give film­mak­ers more op­por­tu­nity for cre­ative ex­pres­sion.

“When peo­ple stay in a pri­vate space to en­joy th­ese on­line films, those that de­mand more thought and a slower pace will have chance to get an au­di­ence, while a film in to­day’s cinema needs to get peo­ple hooked from the very be­gin­ning,” he says.

In spite of a promis­ing fu­ture, Yang still prefers stead­ier steps. He says only about one-third of the com­pany’s on­line films in 2016 will be self-made like iGirl, and iQiyi will still stick to its busi­ness model as a broad­caster.

All in all, in 2015, from among 612 fea­ture-length films re­leased on the site, only 35 earned more than 1 mil­lion yuan for their pro­duc­ers, which ba­si­cally cov­ered pro­duc­tion costs.

How­ever, as the mar­ket’s di­rec­tion has switched, Yang sees op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fu­ture.

“There will cer­tainly be a Steven Spiel­berg-level di­rec­tor who is bred on­line,” he pre­dicts.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

IGirl, di­rected by Hong Kong di­rec­tor Wong Jing (se­cond from right), is a ro­man­tic film tar­get­ing young ne­ti­zens.

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