The Great Wall
Courtesy of Legendary

China should not give up on co-producing films with the U.S. or other foreign countries despite the disappointing box office results of “The Great Wall,” said filmmakers and company executives at FilMart on Monday.

The future of China film industry was a focal point of the first day of FilMart. The industry has been hit by a significant box office slowdown in 2016 and the mediocre performance of “The Great Wall” – its $327 million gross fell short of many forecasts for the Zhang Yimou-directed epic that was the costliest China-U.S. co-production at $150 million-plus.

Film director Stanley Tong said that as China’s film industry lacks young superstars – particularly those born in the 1990s — storytelling and creativity must became the most important elements.

“But this is the most difficult. If you are making a China-U.S. co-production, which audience should you appeal to?,” Tong said in one of the forums at FilMart. “The Great Wall” was almost a hit in China, raked in $171 million, but its $43 million performance in North America was relatively lackluster.

“We need to learn from Hollywood on how to take on a global market. China films have been focusing too much on the local market,” Tong said. He added that rather than making adaptations of Chinese fantasy literature classic “Journey to the West” over and over again, Chinese filmmakers should start developing stories set in the modern and even futuristic times.

Jiang Defu, general manager of Wanda Media, said identifying the right audience is crucial. “If you want your film to be well-received in North America, then the story has to be geared towards those audiences, and release them in China because these projects star Chinese actors,” said Jiang.

He said, however, co-productions are strictly regulated by the government and production companies have no choice but to follow the rules on content and genre, which are great challenges to the industry.

Last year’s box office slowdown — from growth of 49% in 2015 to under 4% in 2016 — has shaken the industry. Chen Yiqi, chairman of Sil-Metropole, said that it was not a decline but a healthy adjustment, as the growth in 2015 was unhealthy. He said although China’s film market is on its way to becoming the world’s biggest, it is still at an early stage of development.

“We should explore more co-production opportunities and learn from them. It will help the Chinese film industry to grow and mature in the long run,” Chen said.

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