Driving domestic film production past Hollywood


Future X-Cops, released March 30, 2010

Go Lala Go!, released April 15, 2010

The many releases of mainstream Chinese films on the mainland have caught some attention over the months, especially those made in conjunction with directors from Hong Kong, such as Teddy Chen’s Bodyguards and Assassins (十月围城).

April saw the release of Go Lala Go! (杜拉拉升职记), starring Xu Jinglei (徐静蕾) and Future X-Cops (未来警察) starring Andy Lau (刘德华), two prominent films that were driven by market needs. The former had heavy advertising and branding and the latter was directed by Wong Jing (王晶), a commercially successful director criticized for his shambolic filmmaking. With Future X-Cops, he made Andy Lau a robot from the future…

On April 15, the Beijing Youth Daily picked up on this trend, and reported on the remarks of Mao Yu (毛羽), who is a prominent official at SARFT. The article emphasizes Mao’s remarks that there are heavy forces behind domestic film production, in order to get tastes away from Hollywood, but at the same time attract them in the same way that Hollywood has traditionally attracted its audiences. A translation of the article is below:

What’s worse than Hollywood is ‘Hollywoodization’

by Xiao Yang (肖扬) / BYD

“Hollywood blockbusters have invaded the cities and taken over all around the globe, with the only market left being China’s, once the line of defense is broken, then it will push straight through, and affect China’s film industry as a whole.” Yesterday, the deputy head of SARFT, Mao Yu (毛羽) expressed conscious unhappiness at the 2010 Beijing Municipal Working Conference on Cinema. He said that the eyeballs of Chinese audiences have already been “taken hostage” by Hollywood blockbusters. The World Trade Organization ruling last year will also help more Hollywood blockbusters enter the Chinese market: “We are still evaluating the ruling, but the call of the “counterattack” of domestically produced films has been sounded, and we already have some “mandatory quotas.”

In 1994, Hollywood films finally entered the Chinese film market - the first film to be imported and distributed on the mainland was The Fugitive, and after this 10 films were imported every year. In 2001, the WTO ruling made the standard 20. At the moment only two companies are allowed to distribute imported films: China Film Group (中影集团) and Huaxia Film Distribution Co. Ltd (华夏电影发行有限公司). For Hollywood movies, the entrance requirements are very high, and the channels very narrow. But still, last year the WTO decided that these limitations of US films in China broke world trade regulations, which means that there will be an increase of imported Hollywood films, which will be distributed through other channels. Hollywood film companies may even start distributing their own films in China.

Is the wolf really coming? Yesterday, the deputy head of SARFT Mao Yu’s warning predicts this threat: “Perhaps many people think that with more Hollywood blockbusters entering Chinese cinemas there’ll be more cinematic enjoyment, and that it’s a good thing. But things aren’t that simple; there is a potential danger.” Mao Yu elaborates that at present, any foreign film that wants to enter the Chinese market needs to go through a process with China Film or Huaxia. The distribution at the box office for Hollywood blockbusters is only 13% - 15%, because they have no other channels of directing films into China. But if the quota is opened for imported films, the “monopoly” of China Film and Huaxia will end, then Hollywood films will take 60% or even 70% - this is already the “example” for Hollywood in other countries. The consequence will seriously affect the rewards of the investment made by Chinese cinema itself, so that the good cycle of sustained development of the Chinese film industry will be harmed.

Apart from this, what worries Mao Yu is the “Hollywoodization” of Chinese tastes: “The way that Hollywood makes money is to use significant technological methods to create a shock to the senses, in this strain they made Avatar, of which the box office reached 1.3 billion yuan in China. Some say that Avatar can only be made once every 10 years, but currently in the cinemas, 3D movies haven’t stopped being made. Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans and other big Hollywood movies used 3D technology have ‘captured’ Chinese people’s eyeballs. For China, whose technological standards are not yet that high, this is a huge shock.”

In order to feel safe, Chinese films have to be “strong,” from what we can see now, domestically produced films isn’t lacking in opportunities. In 2009 box offices in all the cities came to 6.206 billion yuan, the growth rate equaled to four times, growth in Chinese domestic films were the most obvious, taking 56.6% of the total, making more than 3.5 billion, and has made more than imported films in the last 7 years.

Yesterday, Mao Yu emphasized the Guidelines of the General Office of the State Council on Promoting the Prosperous Development of Movie Industry (关于促进电影产业繁荣发展的指导意见, from January 2010) and revealed the plans that were made, which was to promote the development of Chinese film: “For example, in future the production of Chinese films will continue to be around 500 in number every year, and one third will be shown in a mainstream way, and every year 50 films will be both good and popular.” Apart from this, China will also promote the use of 3D technology: “In the next five years, China will increase its large-scale film production bases, in order to bring about China’s digital revolution.” Mao Yu said that he hoped China’s films will actively attack and move itself out of China, “Chinese films need to create international influence: we will dub 100 domestic films and organize shows of Chinese film in 40 or 50 countries, with the number reaching 400 or 500.”

As for whether domestic films are still under protection? This reporter saw this line the Guidelines of the General Office of the State Council on Promoting the Prosperous Development of Movie Industry: “Cinemas will seriously ensure that two thirds of films which are shown will be domestically made.”

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