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China Aims to Become ‘Strong Film Power’ Like U.S. by 2035, Calls for More Patriotic Films

The Chinese government has exhorted filmmakers to turn the country into a “strong film power” like the U.S. by 2035 and called for the production of 100 movies a year that each earn more than RMB100 million ($15 million) as part of a push to increase China’s soft power.

The targets were set by Wang Xiaohui, executive deputy director of the Central Propaganda Department and director of the National Film Bureau, at the first nationwide industry symposium since the former agency took jurisdiction over the latter. Government officials, film scholars, representatives of major film companies and industry associations gathered in Beijing on Wednesday for a symposium that set the tone for the future development of China’s industry with the propaganda bureau in the driver’s seat.

The names of luminaries such as directors Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Ning Hao, Guan Hu, and Huang Jianxin, as well as actors Zhang Ziyi, Wu Jing, and Chen Daoming, were on the list of attendees, according to the People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.

Wang was named head of China’s film bureau last May, following a major government restructuring. He said that a major concern is that “the international influence of Chinese film still has such a long way to go.” Last year, American films took in about $2.8 billion in the China market, but Chinese films in the U.S. market made only a few tens of millions. With its massive local box office, China had already become a “big film power,” but it needed to shift to becoming a “strong film power” like the U.S. by 2035, he said.

“China has already taken its place at the center of the world stage, and Chinese films must have their proper place in the world,” Wang said, according to the People’s Daily. “But the Chinese film industry’s current level of development is not commensurate with China’s national status. A country’s level of film development reflects its total national strength.”

He said that the biggest problem facing the Chinese film industry was one of quality. “Overall, our ability to tell stories lags far behind Hollywood and Bollywood’s,” Wang said.

The 100 films a year that gross more than $15 million each should be “about realistic topics” and must “equally generate social impact and financial profits,” he said. They should take “the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” as their theme and have “patriotic plots.”

Filmmakers “must have a clear ideological bottom line and cannot challenge the political system.” Cultivating new film artists was “extremely urgent and important,” as a lack of talent has so far been a big setback, he added.

In a summary of last year’s industry performance, Wang called for the country to consolidate production capacity on profitable projects. In 2018, homegrown Chinese films accounted for a record 62.15% of the total local box office. But the money brought in was disproportionately earned by the top 10 grossing films, with just 2% of Chinese theatrical releases bringing in 53% of the box office. Meanwhile, 300 out of the 400 movies shown last year brought in less than 1 million RMB, while hundreds more never even made it to cinemas, indicating wasted resources.

Thanks to scandals involving high-profile actors that resulted in film-release cancellations, Wang also announced that China would establish a “national film industry ethics committee.” Most recently, the Chinese New Year romcom “A Boyfriend for My Girlfriend” was pulled because of a scandal involving the lead actor and his mistress, while earlier in the year, a tax-evasion case involving actress Fan Bingbing caused her forthcoming works to disappear. China set up a similar ethics committee for the gaming industry last year.

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