Hollywood’s new China syndrome
China’s impact on Hollywood filmmaking is only just getting started.
In the film Red Dawn, an invading Chinese army was changed into marauders from North Korea when MGM decided it did not want to imperil its chances to break the film into the Chinese film market.
In Ironman 3, a notorious villain from the comic book known as “The Mandarin” becomes an ethnically ambiguous figure played by the Anglo-Indian actor Ben Kingsley.
In X-Men: Days of Future Past, few scenes of Blink, the mutant character played by Chinese actress Fan Bingbing were added specifically for the Chinese release.
Independence Day: Resurgence includes a Chinese actress Angelababy, previously unknown to most Americans, as well as a bizarre scene in which Stanley Tucci’s character takes a break from a chase to take a gratuitous sip of a Chinese brand of soy milk.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story features two of China’s biggest stars, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen.
From product placement and casting famous Chinese entertainers in supporting roles to altering filming locations and storylines, Hollywood has done a lot over the past 20 years to gain entry into China’s ever-growing moviegoing market.
The Great Wall may well represent the next step in Hollywood economics: directed by Oscar nominee Zhang Yimou and starring top US A-lister Matt Damon and Chinese favourites Andy Lau and Jing Tian, backed by Dalian Wanda Group’s Legendary Entertainment – itself owned and under the watchful eye of China’s richest man Wang Jianlin – and Hollywood’s iconic studio Universal Pictures. The Great Wall, with a budget of US$135 million, is the most expensive Chinese film ever made.
Despite the nationwide hype, The Great Wall camesecond place in the domestic box office rankings after Jackie Chan’s latest action-comedy Railroad Tigers, since its Christmas release in 2016.
In an interview with the Guardian, China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, summed up the prevailing sentiment.
“Hollywood, which is famous for its storytelling, apparently is not as good as it used to be in telling stories,” he said, citing the industry’s obsession with sequels and remakes.
“Those sequels might have worked before, but Chinese audiences are more sophisticated now. If you want to participate in the growing Chinese market, you must improve film quality.”
With the growingly sophisticated demands of Chinese cinema-goers, star-driven and mega-budget blockbusters no longer generate appeals as expected. Competition from China force studios to make better films to compete for an audience.
Deloitte’s recent report notes that with around 70 percent of the 600 or more films produced annually in China never being screened, lack of standards are resulting in “a colossal waste of resources for producers and the film industry as a whole, and furthermore, poses potential hazards for investors.”
It is anticipated that the introduction of “completion guarantees” with third party companies supervising the entire process of film production, ensuring that film production and distribution are on a budget and on schedule.
The most important factor impairing on the prospects of Chinese movie industry overtake Hollywood into global domination comes down to the “cultural differences” and “legal considerations” interfere with the country’s ability to export their own films to other countries.
The demand for foreign content
Having grown exponentially in recent years in China, the six foreign films in the top ten most popular box office performers in 2016 had taken $813 million, a far cry from 2013 when the two foreign films in China’s top 10 for the whole of the year took $233 million.
What’s more, mainland moviegoers are not just crazy about foreign productions; they are also fixated on foreign settings and overseas-based storylines in domestically produced films, which has even propelled international property investments abroad.
Two prime examples are Lost in Thailand, a 2013 domestically-produced caper following Chinese tourists in Thailand that made $208 million at China’s box offices, and the 2014 Chinese blockbuster Finding Mr Right 1 and 2 – both which spurred property investment interest as well as tourism in Thailand and Seattle to spike subsequently.
In other words, foreign movies are inspiring travel and property investment aspirations, which bodes well for the global property market indeed.