Though China was among the first in the world to restart film shoots in the wake of COVID-19, the number of projects going into production has been drastically reduced by the pandemic and its accompanying economic uncertainty.
Recent financial reports and public comments from China’s major studios reveal some trends in what to expect from those productions still in the pipeline. There will be a blast of coronavirus-themed films and patriotic content to mark next year’s 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party that are unlikely to make much of a dent abroad, a strong line-up of actioners and crime thrillers — some more hard-boiled and some more fantasy-based — and inventive animated fare with big ambitions, alongside a steady stream of rom-coms and titles from up-and-coming talent.
In late July, Bona Film Group chairman Yu Dong said that Chinese film industry practitioners are “actually very anxious” and “should be more worried” that it appears China may run out of content to screen by early next year, given what’s currently in the works.
“We all want to resume production as soon as possible, because our current film supply of around 400 or 500 films can hold us out until next March or April, and next summer there will be a batch of movies about the centenary of the Party’s founding, but the following release windows are relatively empty,” he said at the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival, calling for the industry to “speed up the recovery of film production.”
The major patriotic films to expect out of China include “My People, My Homeland,” from Beijing Culture, which was one of the first to go back into production in the wake of COVID-19 and is set to be released Oct. 1, the National Day holiday.
There’s also a series of four films about the Korean War from China Film Group intended to commemorate the conflict’s 70th anniversary.
For the 100th anniversary, there is “1921” from Tencent Pictures and Shanghai Film Group, and Enlight Media’s “Revolutionary,” a film about the life of Li Dazhao, an intellectual who co-founded the Communist Party.
Shanghai Film is among the most all-in on the 100th anniversary theme: at least four of its 12 feature films currently in production fall into the category, including “Chen Wangdao,” about the first person to translate the Communist Manifesto into Chinese, and a film literally just called “The Communist Manifesto.”
The two more notable patriotic pandemic-themed films to emerge are Bona Film Group’s “Chinese Doctor,” which is planning a Chinese New Year release, and Enlight Media’s “Huoshenshan,” which tells the story of the Wuhan hospital of the same name built in the space of weeks to combat the coronavirus.
When it comes to action films, most featuring Hong Kong talent, some key titles are the upcoming Donnie Yen-starring cop thriller “Raging Fire” from Tencent Pictures and Emperor Motion Pictures; Alibaba Picture’s “Shock Wave 2,” written and directed by Herman Yau and produced by and starring Andy Lau; another whose name translates to “Rogue” from Bona helmed by “Septet: A Story of Hong Kong” director Patrick Tam; and Shanghai Film Group’s Europe-set “The Hunting,” which stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Duan Yihong in a search for overseas Chinese fugitives.
In the animated realm, Enlight Media, which backed last summer’s breakout hit “Ne Zha,” takes the lead. Its pipeline includes high-profile projects such as “Ne Zha 2,” “Big Fish and Begonia 2,” and two new films from “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” director Tian Xiaopeng — another Monkey King title and one called “Deep Sea,” according to its 2019 annual report.
Major Chinese studio Huayi teetered on the brink of financial disaster last year after the summer release of its blockbuster “The Eight Hundred” was cancelled due to censorship issues.
But now that the film has become the most successful of the year so far, with $341 million in box-office receipts and counting, things could be looking
up. Huayi listed 10 other films planned for theatrical release this year in its 2019 annual report, none of which have come out yet.
The larger among them are “Bureau 749” from Lu Chuan, Stephen Chow’s “The Mermaid 2” (sequel to 2016’s $527 million-grossing “The Mermaid”) and “Yin Yang Master,” directed by Li Weiran. Intriguingly, Feng Xiaogang’s “Cell Phone 2” starring Fan Bingbing was also listed. Although completed, it was shelved indefinitely in the wake of the starlet’s 2018 tax evasion scandal.
Huayi is also developing a new title from “Ex-Files” rom-com series director Tian Yusheng and another from Taiwanese helmer Leste Chen (2017 sci-fi thriller “Battle of Memories”), the report said.