Industries & Festivals, Talks & Interviews — September 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

Chinese film market & Hollywood – uneasy but necessary alliance for both

china-film-marketToday, even with occasional financial issues, Hollywood continues to rely on China as its biggest market outside of the United States.

And it seems like Hollywood does not indend to lose anything of what Chinese film market is offering at the moment.

“With Hollywood box office figures being a bit stagnant over the last few years (though looking better so far in 2012/2013), and with China being expected to overtake the US by 2020 and projected to build some 25,000 new cinemas over the next few years, it’s clearly a huge potential market with an increasingly wealthy population,” expert on Asian cinema James Mudge told BZFilm.

“The Chinese box office has been up something like 36 percent so far this year. Gimmicks like 3D and IMAX, while fading somewhat in terms of ticket sales in the west, are growing in popularity in China, and so it’s also a market with plenty of possibilities for milking the audiences,” Mudge believes.

He went on to note that Hollywood and its studios are businesses first and foremost, and in terms of growing, the Chinese market is currently the most obvious choice.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say Hollywood actually relies upon China as yet, and is clearly still finding its feet with the new territory, though it may rely more and more in the years to come as the Chinese market grows – or risk losing out and being replaced as the cinematic global superpower,” he said.

Some Hollywood studios are still being owned part of revenues earned by China for theatrical releases of some U.S. made movies.

“I believe this has actually now been resolved, and that the money is moving again. Quotas have also been relaxed somewhat to allow more foreign films to be released in China, 34 now instead of 20, which is pretty significant,” he said.

Mudge admitted that likely there might be more such clashes in the future though due to the differences in two markets and the ways in which the countries and their governments handle their economies.

“I think economic issues will generally be taken care of as they arise, and what we will see is more efforts to collaborate on a studio level, more co-productions between Hollywood and China, as films officially recognised as co-productions are exempt from a lot of the regulations and taxes,” he said.

“At present, only a couple of state run distributors can release foreign films in China, and this is something which we might see being changed or worked around in the future too,” he added.

Mudge said that though co-productions or what could cynically be called ‘China-pandering’ is a good road to go down for Hollywood, there’s also a lot of work to be done here stemming from cultural issues, and a lack of understanding in these areas might be more important than economic factors.

“Basic differences in the audiences and the different ways in which US films may or may not have to be adjusted for Chinese consumers – these factors might be more complext and harder to resolve,” he explained, further bringing up several examples.

“Take recent examples like Iron Man 3, which bemused Chinese audiences through having different Chinese/international versions, the western release all but cutting out the Chinese stars (though which, to be fair, still made plenty of money at the Chinese box office), or Looper, which again had a separate China-specific version, though which didn’t perform as well,” he said.

“You’ve also got the likes of World War Z and Red Dawn, changed from their source material to potentially appease Chinese audiences, or even the comedy 21 and Over, which had a separate and totally different Chinese version due to being a co-production,” Mudge noted.

He went on to say that the audience also recently seen an interesting mix of culture and economic issues with Pacific Rim, which performed relatively poorly in the US, but which has done very well around the world, particularly in China – so much so, that it’s being rumoured at least to be one of the first major Hollywood blockbusters to have a sequel green-lit on the basis of non-US grosses.

“At the same time though, it’s been accused by some in China of being US propaganda, pushing US values and trying to affirm the role of the US military as protector of Asia and the world….it’ll be interesting to see if a sequel gets made whether or not it’s more China focused,” he said.

Mudge underscored that the Chinese market and Hollywood clearly at this stage do indeed need each other – Hollywood films do very well at the Chinese box office, making up a sizeable part of the top ten films last year.

“The reverse isn’t quite so true, and though Chinese (and other Asian) films are imported to the US market, they rarely achieved mainstream success, and often have to be completely re-edited (as opposed to being designed for the US market in the same way that Hollywood films have recently been more aimed at Chinese audiences),” he said.

He also mentioned the quota system.

“Chinese local films are still very big at the domestic box office, notably the likes of Lost in Thailand, CZ12 and Painted Skin: The Resurrection last year, and so there perhaps isn’t what could be called a proper reliance on Hollywood product,” he noted.

“With Hollywood looking to be the keener of the two markets to break into new territories, it’s arguably Hollywood that has more to lose, and more to adjust to, but overall, it’s a somewhat uneasy but very necessary alliance for both, certainly at the moment,” Mudge concluded.

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