GOOD MORNING FROM BEIJING: The screen on the TV in my room at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel suddenly went black. It was in the very early hours Saturday morning and I turned it on to see what — if anything — was happening on Tiananmen Square. Naturally, I turned to CNN. The station and the Intl. Herald-Tribune are an American’s tie-line to the free world. Earlier in the day, preceding the fifth anniversary of the massacre, all was quiet in the square. Soldiers kept crowds away and police, uniformed and plainclothes, added to the state of security. The plainclothes cops were obvious by their constant confabs on portable phones camouflaged in newspapers! The street action was its normal hysterical pace. After all, this is a city of more than 11 million people. But as the anniversary hours approached, I was anxious to learn the latest. Thus I turned to CNN — and what a surprise. As the commentator started to discuss the anniversary and describe the original event, the screen went black. But even more strange, a still picture of the massacre returned to the blackened screen — and remained transmitted long after the description of Tiananmen’s anniversary had ended. That’s the way things are in China, I was told; the government had K.O.’d the reception via satellite, but –… Friday, we had started out on a tour of the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City, the city in general, including Tiananmen Square. I had been given a carefully mapped itinerary to take off on my own. But Nicholas Ong, general manager of the newly opened Hard Rock Cafe, did not believe it was safe for a foreigner to go about the city during these tense days — so he accompanied us. His fears were totally unfounded but his generosity in taking the time and effort to accompany us was heartfelt. I did feel I’d contributed something to his knowledge of the city when I insisted he, too, use the great Roger Moore-narrated audiotape tour through the incredible Forbidden City. It is an invaluable aid. P.S.: Peter Ustinov has also taped a tour for visitors. As you go through this man-made miracle, it is almost impossible to imagine how the movie was made (“The Last Emperor,” that is) on this site with thousands of visitors vying for time to see the almost 600-year-old palace. I can’t wait to rent the movie and now see it again!
BACK AT THE SHERATON, I was able to make contact with China Film Export & Import Corp.’s executive of sales and acquisitions, Qiu Cuiding. She had just returned from Cannes. She said, “We are trying to negotiate with the majors to do business in China. We’ve had good discussions for four months about revenue-sharing with UIP, Columbia, WB and Buena Vista. We are still discussing it. The Chinese film market needs time to prepare it. U.S. films make more impact than films from any other country (foreign, that is). Our quota is to release 60 foreign films a year here.” I asked her which stars are favorites and she mentioned Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. What did she accomplish in Cannes? “I talked to independent filmmakers as well as to the president and vice president of Columbia about revenue-sharing in China.” How would U.S. film companies be reimbursed? She explained: First, 30% is deducted to pay the (government) tax. Of the remaining 70%, 60% would go to China Films and the other 40% to the U.S. companies. She said China Films itself is not making so many films these days “because it is so difficult to know the taste of audiences — they don’t know what they want! It’s a tough business.”
MEANWHILE, ONE REASON THE BUSINESS is so “tough,” we learned, is because of the enormous amount of piracy of features, videotapes, etc. The pirates will even sit in the theaters with a highly sensitive video camera and tape a movie in the very theater where they bought tickets. The videocassette rental market also suffers from the same stolen product. Sometimes, the pirated movie copy even contains shots of patrons getting up in front of their cameras in the theater. But no one (who buys the tapes) minds. My teenage guide admitted to me her favorite movie star is Tom Cruise, whom she loved in both “Top Gun” and “Rain Man.” She said the young people in China love U.S. movie stars — especially Madonna, Whitney Houston, Janet and Michael Jackson. And they love to watch U.S. sports — Michael Jordan T-shirts are everywhere … Other evidence of American influence is the Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and — Hard Rock Cafe here. At the Hard Rock, “T.N.T.” was playing during our stay — they had followed B.B. King, who launched the Beijing Hard Rock. John Denver was to play here, but I was told he didn’t get proper clearances in time — it takes at least two months, they said, to get an OK to perform here. B.S. Ong, who has the Asian franchises of the Hard Rock, also has ’em with Planet Hollywood in Asia — no problem owning both, he’s proving. Ong and Raymond Chow plan to team on another showbiz-related venture — a movie theme park in Singapore and one in Hong Kong.