Hollywood weighs future in China as NPC gets underway

Hopes rest on incoming President Xi

BEIJING

China’s annual legislature, the National People’s Congress, meets this week with much pomp and plenty of red flags, and everyone wants to know what the future holds under incoming president Xi Jinping, Hollywood bizzers included.

The NPC is not big on democratic procedure — decisions are made well in advance by the ruling elite of the Communist Party, and rubberstamped with a big round of applause by the 3,000 delegates inside the Great Hall of the People.

But it’s a good event to gauge what is happening in China and what this could mean for Hollywood, such as whether Xi Jinping will introduce reforms to make China a less censorious, more transparent market for U.S. companies to operate in.

Xi is a movie fan who apparently loves “Saving Private Ryan,” but that is unlikely to be the driving factor behind any reform he implements.

Pressure from the Motion Picture Assn., the World Trade Organization and, most importantly perhaps, Chinese filmgoers filling the country’s growing numbers of new theaters, will prove a bigger boost to reform.

He has been a friend to Hollywood in recent months, having overseen last year’s agreement to loosen China’s import restrictions on foreign films, which allows entry into the country of 14 more 3D or large-format films per year on top of the 20 that are already imported.

Foreign distribs also have seen the profit share on those films rise to 25% from 13%.

China Film Group’s Zhang Lu, who is responsible for promoting Chinese movies in North America, said: “In terms of Hollywood movies, the (NPC’s) general direction will be that we will encourage more co-productions between America and China. As regards purely Hollywood movies’ market in China, that depends on the policy from above.”

The domestic film biz is central to the government’s goal of boosting Chinese influence overseas. And while Xi may want to allow more foreign product into China, the political pressure to focus on homegrown movies will be immense.

Xi will be formally named president at some point towards the end of the 13-day NPC, having been named Communist Party chief and head of the military at a congress in November.

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