Hollywood remains as keen as ever to find ways to unlock the China market, which generated more than $3 billion in B.O. last year; China is also keen that its movies find a way to succeed in America, and Hong Kong has long been seen as the conduit to the U.S. market.
The rise of China offers major opportunities for Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. The Mainland is a major market for Hong Kong films and nearly all the big players in Hong Kong have some kind of China presence.
An example of closer cross-border cooperation was the deal between China’s top Internet TV company, Youku Tudou, and Hong Kong’s TVB to bring more than 2,500 hours of TVB’s hot dramas and old classics to Youku Tudou’s websites and mobile clients.
The film biz is more intertwined. Many helmers and producers spend half the year in Beijing or Shanghai, while talent is migrating to the Mainland in droves.
Despite the opportunities, China is challenging for Hong Kong’s traditionally freewheeling filmmaking biz, with Hong Kong helmers having to go through the often tortuous process of getting their movies approved by China’s beady-eyed censors at the Film Bureau.
There are signs that the censorship situation in China might be easing. At the fest, the Mainland drama “Mystery” by oft-banned helmer Lou Ye won the best film award at the fest’s Asian Film Awards.
Lou has been banned several times in China for his films that often deal with political themes unpopular with the government.
While China forbids movies that make the police look bad — the 2006 “Mission: Impossible III” had a delayed opening in China over a scene that portrayed the Shanghai police in a bad way — action helmer Dante Lam is currently in post-production on “That Demon Within,” about a police officer who becomes a killer. (The title in Chinese translates as “Evil Cop.”) Getting the censor’s approval to make a movie about a murderous policeman is a serious departure from tradition that China-watchers have noted.
One caveat: the movie eventually passed the censors with only minimal cuts, but Lam was warned that he should focus on themes other than acts of violence.
“The subject is a little bit sensitive for the Beijing censors, but it’s not only about a bad cop, it’s about human nature,” says Lam, who added that censorships in China is getting more transparent and perhaps less restricting.
“Everybody is acknowledging China. The market in China is huge. There are a lot more co-productions in the U.S. and China, there are a lot more Hong Kong movies that are being filmed there,” said Celina Jade, a Hong Kong-born American thesp, who plays Shado in CW’s series “Arrow.”
The growing importance of China is reflected in her own show, where Shado is speaks Mandarin. “Even U.S. TV series are acknowledging the importance of the China market. My character was, originally, in the DC comics, a Japanese character, and was re-written to be Chinese,” said Jade.