Days after China launched the world’s largest 5G network, US and Chinese film executives at the Chinese American Film and TV Festival’s co-production summit discussed its impact on the entertainment world.
China’s three state-owned carriers China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom made 5G data plans available to consumers last Friday, a key step in Beijing’s push to becoming a global superpower capable of technologically rivaling the U.S.
The country is now home to the world’s largest commercial operating 5G network, available in 50 Chinese cities via plans ranging from RMB128 ($18) to RMB599 ($85). The connectivity means much faster data download and upload speeds, wider coverage and better connection stability.
“Content that used to take 40 minutes to download will now take just three minutes, thanks to 5G,” said Jack Gao, the former Wanda exec and current CEO of Smart Cinema, which hopes to disrupt current theatrical distribution models by enabling theatrical releases via smartphone. “Welcome technology. Whether you like it or not, it’s coming.”
China’s 5G rollout was originally planned for next year, but was bumped up due to trade tensions with the U.S. Chinese tech firm Huawei is the supplier of much of the equipment making China’s network possible, although it has been blacklisted in the U.S., where critics consider the company a risk to national security.
The speedy network “changes the whole game of who we get to and how we get to them. It creates problems in terms of pricing, but the potential is so huge,” president of Ruddy Morgan Productions Andre Morgan said of its impact on distribution.
He explained his optimism by saying, “the more the technologies evolve, the broader the audience. For the industry, I think it’s a positive thing, because you have the opportunity of reaching far greater audiences than we could have imagined 30, 40 years ago.
“It’s wonderful for me now to see China leading at the edge of something instead of just trying to catch up to European and western technology,” Morgan added, pointing out that by building rapidly from next to nothing on the back of new technological advances, “emerging markets are able to leapfrog over rust belt industries” like the U.S., which are more wedded to old systems and methodologies.
China is also at the head of the pack when it comes to 8K filmmaking, Shanghai Media Group board of supervisors chairman Teng Junjie pointed out. The country just completed its first feature-length 8K film, he said, noting that other countries such as Japan and the U.S. may have the means to play such works but not yet any feature-length content. “The 5G and 8K era has already arrived,” he said.
Stu Levy, founder of TOKYO-POP, said that new technologies were shaping aesthetics and sensibilities in a way that is driving a “filmmaker generation gap.”
“If I were a young filmmaker coming out today, the first place I’d be looking at is TikTok” for inspiration, he said. “It’s always the place where the young people and their movements are that are relevant to pop culture.” TikTok hails from Chinese developer Bytedance, which launched it as the Western version of its popular mainland Douyin app.
Industry players referenced new AI deep fake technologies and processes of creating human avatars, like those employed by Ang Lee in his new “Gemini Man” to create a digitized version of a young Will Smith pixel by pixel, as ushering in a “brave new world” of what it means to create and maintain cinematic stars and icons.
Yet despite new technological advances, the essentials of storytelling stay the same, Morgan said. He cautioned against a total free-for-all as tech continues to lower the barriers of entry to content creation.
“As you broaden out access to the tools, you better be sure you’re training people with the correct moral values to be using those tools,” he said. “Whether you want to call it censorship or responsible storytelling, I don’t think that it can be avoided in the long run.”