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 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.
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.