Mak­ing magic with movies

China’s film mar­ket gains ground as in­dus­try dis­plays global promi­nence, top­ping world box of­fice earn­ings in first quar­ter of the year

China Daily European Weekly - - China News - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai zhangkun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China has be­come a pow­er­house in the global film mar­ket in terms of box of­fice growth, ac­cord­ing to the 2018 Chi­nese Film In­dus­try re­port re­leased at the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

The fes­ti­val, which is the only cat­e­gory A in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­val in China and one of the largest in Asia, was held for the 21st time from June 16 to 25 this year, show­cas­ing 500 movies from around the world in 45 the­aters in the city.

China’s box of­fice tak­ings to­taled 20 bil­lion yuan ($3.1 bil­lion; 2.6 bil­lion eu­ros; £2.3 bil­lion) in the first three months of this year, sur­pass­ing the $2.89 bil­lion raked in by the United States. This is the first time China has topped the global film box earn­ings in a quar­ter, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Hong, vice-chair­man of the Chi­nese Film­mak­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, the in­sti­tu­tion be­hind the re­port.

The as­so­ci­a­tion has been com­pil­ing the re­port on China’s film in­dus­try for 12 con­sec­u­tive years, and this was the first time an in­ter­na­tional edi­tion was re­leased to in­tro­duce China’s film in­dus­try to for­eign peers.

China’s film in­dus­try has been grad­u­ally catch­ing up with the US in re­cent years. In 2017, box of­fice tak­ings in North Amer­ica grossed $11.1 bil­lion, fall­ing by 2.3 per­cent year-on-year. In con­trast, China’s box of­fices earned $8.53 bil­lion, a jump of 13.45 per­cent from 2016.

Feng Wei, the Greater China pres­i­dent of the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, says that North Amer­ica, China and the rest of the global mar­ket now each ac­count for nearly one-third in­ter­na­tional box of­fice tak­ings.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with China Daily dur­ing the Shang­hai fes­ti­val, Jeff Robi­nov, a vet­eran Hol­ly­wood film pro­ducer who col­lab­o­rated with China’s Fo­sun Group and Sony Pic­tures to set up mul­ti­plat­form me­dia com­pany Stu­dio 8, sug­gested that one of the fac­tors be­hind China’s rise is the ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing ef­forts un­der­taken to pro­mote do­mes­tic movies.

Robi­nov, who served as the pres­i­dent of Warner Bros from 2007 to 2013, said that Chi­nese cor­po­ra­tions are also play­ing a part in this growth, hav­ing lever­aged their re­sources to bring more overseas films to China, as well as in­tro­duce Chi­nese artists and pro­duc­tions to the global mar­ket.

In the past decade, the cost of pro­duc­tion has gone up and this has re­sulted in films be­ing fi­nanced by mul­ti­ple stu­dios in­stead of a sin­gle en­tity, said Robi­nov.

Stu­dio 8, for ex­am­ple, was just one of the many par­ties, in­clud­ing The Ink Fac­tory, TriS­tar Pro­duc­tion, LS­tar Cap­i­tal and Bona Film Group, that backed Amer­i­can Chi­nese di­rec­tor Ang Lee’s ex­per­i­men­tal film Billy Lynn’s Long

Half­time Walk in 2016. The film, which was shot at 120 frames per se­cond, re­sult­ing in ex­treme clar­ity, failed at the box of­fice, bring­ing in just $30 mil­lion world­wide against a bud­get of $40 mil­lion. Most films are shot at 24 frames per se­cond.

How­ever, Li Haifeng, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of Fo­sun In­ter­na­tional and pres­i­dent of Fo­sun Film Group, main­tains that the movie was far from be­ing a fail­ure.

“We iden­tify with Ang Lee’s ded­i­ca­tion to con­tin­u­ously ex­plor­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties of film­mak­ing, and hope to have long-term col­lab­o­ra­tion with the di­rec­tor,” says Li.

In­dus­try play­ers have said that the craze of plough­ing in­vest­ment dol­lars into the movie in­dus­try is al­ready cool­ing down in China, as in­vestors re­al­ize that only a few movies among the around 600 made ev­ery year turn a tidy profit. Though the do­mes­tic block­buster Wolf

War­rior II made his­tory by earn­ing a whop­ping 5.6 bil­lion yuan in box of­fices to be­come the high­est-earn­ing Chi­nese film ever, many lo­cal pro­duc­tions fail to make an im­pact.

Dur­ing a fo­rum at the fes­ti­val, Wang Chang­tian, pres­i­dent of Bei­jing En­light Me­dia Co, one of the lead­ing film pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies in China, said he fore­sees some chal­lenges for the lo­cal film in­dus­try. “Quite a num­ber of film stu­dios are hav­ing dif­fi­culty rais­ing funds. Mean­while, pro­duc­tion costs have con­tin­ued to grow while copy­right sales are fall­ing,” Wang said.

Li from Fo­sun notes that it is nat­u­ral that the cap­i­tal mar­ket un­der­goes pe­ri­ods of highs and lows and urges in­dus­try play­ers to fo­cus on qual­ity in­stead of quan­tity.

“We will ul­ti­mately be rec­og­nized for our ef­forts and be able to cre­ate good films that res­onate with the au­di­ence if we con­tinue to pri­or­i­tize the pro­duc­tion of good con­tent,” he says.

In Au­gust, the first ma­jor Stu­dio 8 pro­duc­tion Al­pha, a fan­tasy ad­ven­ture aimed at fam­ily au­di­ences, will be re­leased in the US. An­other fea­ture film by Stu­dio 8, White Boy

Rick, will also land in the cin­e­mas in the US later this year. The film is a crime drama based on true events in the 1980s.

It has taken longer than planned for Stu­dio 8 to take off, Robi­nov said.

“There is a gap in the in­dus­try that small to medium-sized films can fill, and that’s in the lower-bud­get genre film seg­ment — this is where we can fit in,” he said.

Af­ter all, there have been in­stances where low-bud­get Chi­nese films have achieved suc­cess. In 2017, Twenty-Two, fea­tur­ing the tales of “com­fort women” — wartime sex slaves — had the honor of be­com­ing the first Chi­nese doc­u­men­tary to hit 100 mil­lion yuan at the box of­fices. An­other ex­am­ple is Seventy-Seven Days, a film aimed at out­door en­thu­si­asts and art lovers, which earned in ex­cess of 100 mil­lion yuan.

“In re­cent years, more and more Chi­nese au­di­ences are call­ing for di­ver­si­fied movie con­tent,” Li Jifeng, pro­ducer of Seventy-Seven

Days, told Xin­hua.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Some of the jury mem­bers for the 21st SIFF Golden Gob­let Awards gath­ered on the red car­pet be­fore the clos­ing cer­e­mony. They were (left to right) Semih Ka­planoglu, Chang Chen, Ildiko Enyedi, Jiang Wen, Qin Hailu and David Per­mut.

The Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val at­tracted crowds of fans to the Shang­hai Film Art Cen­ter.

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