THE CHINA SYNDROME
A six-point plan to getting your film released in Shanghai
WITH BOTH GHOSTBUSTERS and Suicide Squad denied a release in China, Hollywood is faced with an ongoing challenge to get movies shown in what is poised to become the biggest film market in the world. But with only 34 non-chinese films released each year, negotiating the restrictive guidelines is a minefield. Aynne Kokas, author of Hollywood
Made In China, gives us the essentials. DO keep it clean. “Lots of sex, lots of violence, things that kids couldn’t watch in the theatre, is off-limits.” China doesn’t have a ratings system, so all films have to be acceptable to all audiences. This sensitivity also informs titles:
Suicide Squad becoming Task Force X didn’t help it secure a release. DON’T include ghosts and ghoulies. “There is a lot of scepticism about the presentation of supernatural things. It comes from Marxist materialism and the fact that everything should be rational and explainable.” So yes to dream sequences and drug-fuelled hallucinations. No to Super Power DareTo-die Team (Ghostbusters).
DO make China look big and important.
“Skyfall and Mission: Impossible III didn’t portray Shanghai as a global city. They made it look old. That was particularly a problem for Mission: Impossible III. Things that don’t necessarily continue the narrative of China as a global growing power can be quickly subjected to critique.” DON’T over-estimate your cherished IP. “Brands” like Star Wars may have defined our childhood but they mean little in China. “They don’t have that point of connection. You have to really start the marketing from the ground up.”
DO keep it upbeat. Kokas explains that foreign movies are often disallowed which “are propagating passive or negative outlooks on life, worldview and value systems. Chinese films often structure a narrative in which there is a purely logical path, where life is moving forward and that our ultimate goal, after the revolution, is to find peace.” She suggests there could be worse notions to promote. “It’s not like Kim Kardashian taking off all of her clothes, which just makes me feel like a terrible person on every level.” DON’T just throw in a local superstar. “Chinese audiences can tell when you just slap things on. There was a lot of pushback from Iron Man 3 because the Chinese character [Dr Wu, played by Wang Xueqi, added to the Chinese cut] didn’t really do anything. It was clearly a sop.”
Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in
Suicide Squad: not available in China.