Chinese authorities, cinemas and audiences alike are hungry for U.S. films, resulting in an upswing in the number of Hollywood films approved for release there.
In the first five months of this year, only five U.S. titles bowed theatrically in China: “The Matrix,” “Stuart Little,” “Double Jeopardy,” “Mickey Blue Eyes” and “The General’s Daughter.”
But Beijing officials have recently greenlighted “Dinosaur,” “Gladiator,” “Mission: Impossible 2” and “U-571” for release in China in the July to August period.
And authorities have told U.S. distribs that they are keen to have “The Patriot” and “The Perfect Storm” unspool in September.
China’s dingy, antiquated cinemas are struggling to draw audiences, and are hurt by a shortage of Western films and a lack of crowd-pleasing domestic pics.
“There is a lot of heat on China Film (the only licensed film importer) to do better — and quickly,” one Hollywood exec, who asked not to be identified, told Daily Variety.
The government agreed last November to double from 10 to 20 the unofficial annual quota of imported films allowed under revenue-sharing arrangements and to permit 49% foreign equity in theaters.
The source says China Film now is striving to release two Western films per month.
Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest Entertainment was instrumental in obtaining the clearances to release “Gladiator” and “M:I 2.” Golden Harvest and distrib UIP are partnered in Golden UIP, which distribs films in China via China Film.
GHE managing director C.K. Phoon told Daily Variety that he is especially pleased “Gladiator” will screen uncut; authorities might have been expected to snip some of the more violent scenes, but they decided no trims were needed.
Beijing officials are so anxious to attract foreign investment in cinemas that they have informally told Hollywood reps that foreign companies willing to come into China and build entertainment complexes anchored by cinemas can disregard the 49% ownership limit.
In another sign that China is eager to curry favor in the West, an anti-piracy drive that began May 20 (strategically timed just before the U.S. Congress voted on China’s application for permanent normal trade relations status) has been widened and extended.
Originally intended to last for two months, the crackdown targeting retailers and distribs of counterfeit CDs and video compact discs in specific cities will now sweep from province to province. Millions of CDs and VCDs have been seized.
The campaign is primarily designed to demonstrate that China is acting as a good global citizen by enforcing copyright protection laws.
There is another, less obvious motive: The anti-piracy raids enable the central government to impose its authority on some of the outlying provinces that are less beholden to Beijing.