Patriotism and Protectionism in China’s Booming Film Market

With China’s film market poised to surpass America’s as the world’s largest, efforts to please Chinese audiences have become standard protocol for Hollywood filmmakers. Rory Carroll reports at The Guardian:

Kow-towing to China has become a reflex for actors, writers, producers, directors and studio executives in pursuit of the world’s second-biggest box office, a trend set to intensify as China overtakes the US as the No 1 film market.

Recent blockbusters such as Iron Man 3 and Django Unchained, and others in the pipeline such as Transformers 4 and Brad Pitt’s World War Z, have been modified to please Chinese authorities and audiences, prompting accusations of artistic surrender.

“It’s got to the point where everyone is thinking: how are we going to make a movie that, at the very least, is not offensive to the Chinese public?” said Peter Shiao, chair of the US-China Film Summit and founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Orb Media Group. [Source]

Foreign productions have still been largely locked out of Chinese theaters this month, according to Wei Xi at Global Times, though the trend appears less pronounced than last year:

Despite the fact that a number of Hollywood blockbusters, including After Earth, Pacific Rim, 3D Jurassic Park and Monsters University, are standing in a queue waiting for a screen permit, the June schedule doesn’t have a place for them. So far, only Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel has been given a screening date.

[…] Yet in movie critic Wang Siwei’s opinion, the self-evident domestic protection manner is looser this year than 2012. While in almost two months no foreign movie was screened in mainland theaters last year, several Hollywood works will be permitted in June 2013, and a lot more are currently set for July.

It is because “the early months of 2011 saw the sad defeat of domestic movies at the box office, but this year the situation is much better,” Wang said.

U.S. filmmakers are not the only ones hoping to profit from China’s lucrative film market. Ordinary Chinese are lining up for work as movie extras and a long shot at stardom. From Tania Branigan, also at The Guardian:

For the past decade – since a director spotted his wispy beard and corrugated cheeks – Zhao, 87, has supplemented meagre benefits with his earnings from bit parts in films and TV melodramas. “I do it to eat,” he said. “I’m old and I can’t labour any more, but I can act. There’s no risk, no investment.”

Each morning he joins scores of hopefuls milling around the former Beijing film studio, in the north of the Chinese capital in search of money, fun or fame.

[...] Zhao said the story of Wang Baoqiang, who became a star after a director chose him for the bleak but gripping drama Blind Shaft, inspired many more to gather at the gates. None of them has enjoyed the same success. [Source]

Many extras find themselves playing Japanese soldiers in the thriving genre of anti-Japanese war dramas. From a special report at Reuters by David Lague and Jane Lanhee Lee:

Shi Zhongpeng dies for a living. For 3,000 yuan ($488) a month, the sturdily built stuntman is killed over and over playing Japanese soldiers in war movies and TV series churned out by Chinese film studios.

[…] “I play a shameful Japanese soldier in a way that when people watch, they feel he deserves to die,” Shi says. “I get bombed in the end.”

[…] Some film reviewers in China say that with the censors declaring so many other subjects off limits, it is only natural that the war dominates story-telling in a competitive market for viewers and advertising.

[…] Zhu [Dake, of Shanghai's Tongji University] estimates war stories make up about 70 percent of drama on Chinese television. The state administrator approved 69 anti-Japanese television series for production last year and about 100 films. Reports in the state-controlled media said up to 40 of these were shot at Hengdian alone. State television reported in April that more than 30 series about the war were filming or in planning by the end of March. [Source]

With the rise of diplomatic tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu (or Senkaku) Islands, the popularity of  anti-Japanese films has only increased. But The Economist reports signs that the genre may be falling out of favor with the authorities:

JAPAN’S wartime depredations in China in the 1930s and 1940s have long been good business for Chinese television producers. Political tensions between the two nations have only increased their popularity. Now China’s television regulator has ordered that provincial stations send all such programmes back to Beijing for more vetting before transmission. The move follows a prominent news story on national television criticising “crude and shoddily produced” anti-Japanese dramas. It suggests official concerns about the quality of the shows though not necessarily about their politics.

[…] From 2002 to 2004 modern crime-investigation dramas dominated prime time. Then the regulator stepped in. Officials have also placed restrictions on programmes involving time travel, some of which use historical settings to criticise current politics. As the diplomatic heat rises, reining in anti-Japanese dramas may prove more difficult. [Source]

Click through for more CDT coverage on China’s film industry.