China Should Persist With Co-Productions, Say Experts

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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  1. xiao says:

    Rex, Chinese mainland top stars are not the aging Hong Kong actors anymore. Do some research.

    The situation is vastly complicated. I asked Wilson Ip what he thought about moving to directing in the Mainland vs. HK once and he told me he didn’t have any choice because of the financial requirements of directing the films he wants to make. The censorship is not something anyone likes but we’re talking about directors who have stories they want to tell – and telling them takes money. To get the money you need an audience and when you’re dumping the mainland out of your Cantonese/Mandarin film then you’ve got to have some huge guts. For producers it’s just scary.

    I’ve been in talks recently where options about CPs have been on the table. Prior to last year the BO take for a CP was 27%, down from 40% for a domestic film. The rules have shifted recently to parity – both get 40% – but the acknowledged situation by everyone here in the mainland is that things could slide back without warning. So why would you make a mainland based co-production if, without warning, your BO share could drop from 40% back to 27%? It’s that kind of instability that’s scary here. A domestic film is much safer for the gross at the box office in China, so budgets stay within striking distance of domestic distribution returns and people don’t persue co-productions unless there’s extremely strong reason to suspect you’ll do enough in another market to make up for it. Or you’re small and running cheap.

  2. ayzha says:

    so, Rex.. I’m guessing you think all foreign actors from India, Japan, S Korea, etc…should adopt western names because you’re too lazy and white-centric to learn foreign names. Must be agonizing for you to think of those award-winning actors with African and middle eastern names. They really need to accommodate you by renaming themselves Tom, Dick and Harry, right? For someone who prefers white-washed actors, you have chutzpah for ranting about lack of diversity in China.

    Clearly, you are very ignorant about the fact that HK directors like Peter Chan, Tsui Hark, Stephen Chow, Stanley Tong and a multitude of HK actors, actresses, cinematographers and other talent have been actively working in China. Remember Christy Chung? She moved to Beijing over a decade ago and recently married a hot-looking mainland actor 12 years her junior. Ada Choy worked in many mainland productions and gained a new audience in a Qing Dynasty court drama. She also married a younger and hunky mainland actor. Aaron Kwok is involved with a mainland model who hardly looks ‘agrarian’. That must absolutely horrifying to your elitist and prejudiced mind.

  3. Rex says:

    Sorry, Stanley. Two words: homogeneous culture.

    Actually, three more words: communist thought control.

    Tong’s right: the HONG KONG industry wherein he made his name was famous for minting new young superstars as fast as you could blink. And a huge majority of them were double threats at the very least, in that they could topline all manner of films in all manner of genres, often a dozen or more PER YEAR, with very little if any government censorship. And these actors and actresses would often top the charts as best-selling pop music superstars. Many of them still sell out stadiums worldwide. And audiences across Asia, as well as the diaspora and non-Asian fan base around the globe, supported them wholesale. And because Hong Kong was a British colony for so long, most of them had Cantonese names AND English names, which made them eminently exportable commodities because, hey, who they hell wants to spend time trying to figure out how to pronounce a bunch of X’ sand q’s?

    The mainland film industry has almost NO ONE like that. “Their” top stars are those same Hong Kong megastars who simply got older and latched onto the lucrative mainland market, where they were already well established thanks to the rampant piracy there back when China wouldn’t officially allow its own people to watch all the rich, freely-produced entertainments from Hong Kong. But watch they did, and once they opened up, guess who they wanted to se on their screens? ANDY Lau, JACKIE Chan, JACKY Cheung, LEON Lai, JET Li (and yes, I know where those last two actually come from, but Hong Kong MADE them), Chow Yun-fat. The list goes on. Not so many Hong Kong actresses in those rarified leagues, which is why these icons were more often surrounded by a steady stream of agrarian-faced mainland producers’ girlfriends, but you can’t win ’em all. Thankfully many of Hong Kong’s leading ladies still make ACTUAL Hong Kong movies, and the industry, true to fashion, keeps trying to mint new young stars.

    But not China. Not when, as Tong says, they can just keep adapting Journey To The West and various other non-threatening FANTASY literature set in pre-communist times. The same literature Hong Kong filmmakers already adapted many times over — and FAR more successfully, and colourfully, despite doing so in a largely pre-CG era. Mainland Chinese films set in modern of futuristic times are barely exportable unless they’re loaded with overblown action scenes that western DVD/streaming distributors can use to lure unsuspecting rubes into a purchase. Otherwise, they too often bear less resemblance to any known reality than even the most fanciful Hong Kong movies of days gone by.

    China can’t have what Hollywood has. It can’t even have what Hong Kong cinema had, and somewhat still has. It’s its own thing for as long as there’s a communist government keeping it sterile, and slapping western genre cosmetics on it is usually just embarrassing (anyone remember Future X Cops or Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg? Didn’t think so). The damage was done in 1949. China may become the largest film market some day based on sheer population alone, but it will never do so by way of producing movies the whole world wants to see full of recognizable mainland stars whose names the world can actually pronounce. Hong Kong came a LOT closer during its decades of success because of its century-plus relationship with the west, and an abundance of highly motivated talent both behind and in front of the camera, who often came from all walks of life and from all over the glob. No matter how motivated mainland Chinese creators are, they’ll always be stymied by the black-dye brigade that’s constantly dictating what they can say and how they can say it. When that changes, THEN, maybe, China will produce diverse, even dangerous content the world will actually WANT to see. Until then, how about some more Monkey King stories. Again.

  4. Actor/Writer says:

    Stop screwing over young American storytellers to placate the censorship-happy Chinese government.

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