China Betting Billions on English-Language Films
As China’s growing population of film-goers continue to spend at the box office on hit English-language films produced in Hollywood, Jonathan Landreth at ChinaFile notes that there is much less popular demand for tickets to Chinese-language films abroad, the demand that does exist limited largely to the overseas Chinese-speaking community:
Though Hollywood studio films are making greater returns than ever at China’s box office—despite imports being limited to 34 each year—market forces pigeonhole screenings of Chinese-language films from the People’s Republic into a small but growing group of U.S. theaters that dedicate a few screens to serving an audience made up almost exclusively of diaspora Chinese and Chinese students studying abroad.
[…] For all the hype about boom times in China’s movie marketplace—the box office in the first half of this year soared nearly 50 percent over the first six months of 2014—China can’t seem to land a single hit in what is still the largest theatergoing movie market in the world: the U.S. of A.
[…] It’s not that today’s Chinese filmmakers aren’t getting lots of attention and winning prizes at international film festivals; or that they’re not making mainstream movies that blow up big at home; or that Chinese audiences don’t know what they want—they are and they do. Consider recent high praise for Jia Zhangke at Cannes and the New York Film Festival for Mountains May Depart and, before that, A Touch of Sin, and the glowing reviews for Zhang Yimou’s latest picture, Coming Home. On the commercial front, Goodbye Mr. Loser, the comedy dominating the box office in China for weeks, has grossed $226 million since opening domestically on September 30.
[…] It may be a while before mainstream U.S. moviegoers on the coasts (let alone middle America, or the average Briton) flock to see films in Chinese with English subtitles, even if Chinese studios increasingly approximate slick Hollywood production values and fast-paced storytelling. [Source]
With subtitled movies a hard sell in the U.S. market, Chinese investors are beginning to push for English-language production to boost the popularity of domestic films abroad. At The Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough reports on this changing trend:
A series of major deals revealed at AFM, which ran Nov. 4-11 in Santa Monica, show Chinese media companies moving from a Sino-focused approach — buying films for the Chinese market, doing Chinese-U.S. co-productions — to a global one by investing directly in English-language features, both studio-driven and independent.
Le Vision Pictures, the L.A.-based offshoot of the Chinese production giant, signed a six-picture development deal with Dark Horse Comics (Sin City, Hellboy) to adapt hit Chinese graphic novels into English books and features. Chinese studio Bona Film Group announced a $235 million investment in film financier The Seelig Group, a move that will make Bona an equity player on six live-action tentpoles from 20th Century Fox, including Matt Damon’s hit The Martian. On Nov. 4, Beijing media mogul Bruno Wu unveiled a $1.6 billion fund for English-language, mainly Hollywood-based projects that will be run by Wu’s Sun Seven Stars entertainment conglomerate and Chinese online financial service platform Yucheng Group.
“Chinese is not, or let’s say not yet, a global language,” says Wu. “If you want to be a global content company, you have to produce content in the English language.”
[…] Previous Chinese investments in Hollywood productions typically involved putting up equity in exchange for Chinese rights — as Le Vision did for two Expendables movies. This new wave of Chinese cash, however, is less about buying U.S. movies for China than it is about being owners of original IP. According to Roy Salter, senior media advisor at FTI Consulting, that makes the Chinese film-financing boom “substantially different” from previous cycles of outside investment in Hollywood, like the German bubble of the late 1990s or the private-equity boom that fizzled with the crisis of 2008. […] [Source]
Read more about the deepening relationship between Hollywood and China, how foreign studios’ desire to win coveted access to China’s burgeoning film market can result in a willingness to cater to Beijing’s censors, or how Hollywood could be wise to study Xi Jinxing’s soft power strategy, via CDT.