Movies Go Global

2011/9/29 13:45:00 (Beijing Time)   Source:BeijingReview    By:Tang Yuankai
Christian Bale, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2011, is to star in Chinese movie The 13 Women of Nanjing, directed by Zhang Yimou.
Zhang's latest blockbuster tells the story of 13 Chinese women who serve as escorts to Japanese officers during the rape of Nanjing. Bale will play an American priest who puts his life on the line to help protect civilians from rampaging Japanese forces. Bale isn't the only Hollywood import involved in the big budget feature. The movie's special effects will be created by a team led by Joss Williams who, having worked for Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, specializes in war-related effects.
To attract some of Hollywood's top talents Zhang has lavished a budget of over $100 million on the film, more than equal to the combined total investment in his previous three movies, Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower.
"We spared no expense on this film and hired top international stars and teams to contribute to the movie in order to make a Chinese blockbuster, a movie that will be able to secure a global audience," said Zhang Weiping, the film's producer. "We know high box office returns will justify our investment," he said.
"I received the screenplay in early 2007. It told the story of 13 Chinese courtesans who tried their best to save several female students during Japan's occupation of Nanjing. Set against the background of the Nanjing Massacre, the screenplay is unique but, I think, still reflects the great spirit of the Chinese nation and international humanitarianism. I have been adapting the play since 2007. Because the lead role is for a foreigner, I was hoping to cast a Hollywood star in the role," said director Zhang Yimou.
Bale, the star of a long line of Hollywood hits including American Psycho, Terminator Salvation and, of course The Dark Knight seems like a perfect choice. The 37-year-old actor is no stranger to China, having worked in the country in 1987 when, as a 13-year-old, he starred in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. Spielberg's epic was one of the first collaborations between the Chinese film industry and Hollywood.
"We assisted the Americans with some of the shooting, particularly scenes of Shanghai," said Ren Zhonglun, President of the Shanghai Film Group Corp. "Shanghai's Bund was closed for a month for the shooting and about 1,300 air conditioners were removed. It was unbelievable at that time," he said.
Twenty years after the Empire of the Sun, the Chinese film world has changed beyond recognition. Twenty years ago Chinese teams played a minor role supporting Hollywood crews operating in China, but today Chinese producers have started to play more important roles, co-producing movies with foreign teams.
Chinese producers now contribute ideas and screenplays for co-production. "In other words, Chinese producers are making more decisions in movie co-production," added Ren.
"In the past we offered mainly investment, labor and raw materials in terms of movie co-production. But now the screenplay, storyline and plot are created by both Chinese and foreign partners," said Zhang Xun, General Manager of China Film Co-Production Corp.
The number of co-produced Chinese films has been growing—about 60 movies are now made this way every year.
"This year we've seen a 30-percent increase over last year. Movies co-produced by Chinese and foreign companies are running in the fast lane," Zhang said.
A matter of destiny
A few months ago, Mike Medavoy, the producer behind a string of critically acclaimed hits including Black Swan and All the King's Men, came to Shanghai and announced he would participate in the Shanghai Film Group Corp.'s version of A Jewish Piano. The film, based on a book written by Chinese Canadian author Bei La, tells the story of European Jews who sought refuge in Shanghai during World War II. For Medavoy the film is a reflection of his personal history; his Russian-Jewish parents took refuge in the city during the war.
Shanghai-born Medavoy has been involved in the production of more than 300 Hollywood movies including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, Platoon,
Dances With Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs, and the Oscar-winning Black Swan.
He had described making a movie about Jewish refugees in Shanghai as a personal mission.
"We have found a perfect partner," said Ren of the SFGC.
In order to make A Jewish Piano a success, Medavoy and his Chinese partners have scoured the world to put together a world-class production team. Nicholas Meyer, a famous Hollywood script writer, has been hired.
"Movies are becoming more and more globalized. International cooperation will bring more opportunities for my Chinese colleagues to learn advanced film production techniques," said Medavoy at a press conference in Shanghai. "Because of my love for Shanghai, I must make a marvelous movie this time," he said.
"More film makers are becoming acquainted with China's policy on movie cooperation, and their attitudes are becoming more active," said Zhang of China Film Co-Production Corp., which was founded in 1979. In the past 30 years, 800 movies have been produced in collaboration with other countries and regions, principally Hong Kong and Taiwan. "In the past we had to go abroad to seek partners for films, now overseas filmmakers come to us," she said.
In Zhang's opinion, there are two main reasons for the boom in movie co-production. First, China's movie market is growing rapidly. Domestic box office revenues hit a new high of 10 billion yuan ($1.55 billion) last year and foreign film makers are finding new opportunities in this expanding market. Second, China has further relaxed rules and regulations on movie cooperation. For example, movies can now receive subsidies from both China and their home countries and also be distributed as domestic movies in both markets.
Six countries have so far signed cooperation agreements on movie production with China. They are Australia, Italy, Canada, France, New Zealand and Singapore. The co-produced movies are treated as Chinese films for domestic distribution without quota control, and also protected in overseas markets.
New vigor
"Co-produced movies have displayed unprecedented creativity and vigor recently," said Zhang. Cooperation usually starts right at the beginning with the writing of the screenplay. "Jointly producing a screenplay helps the flow of ideas between two cultures, which is good for the distribution and marketing of the movie," she said.
"China has a great wealth of cultural and philosophical thought," said Christopher J. Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. "We are willing to support the ambitious movie industry development proposal outlined in China's next Five-Year Plan (2011-15)," he said.
Sino-American collaboration in movie production dates back to 1913 when China's first feature film Die for Marriage, co-directed by Zheng Zhengqiu and Zhang Shichuan, invested in by an American company, was shot in Shanghai.
"Of course there have been some setbacks in the history of Sino-American movie cooperation. But the Chinese movie industry has matured, and our cooperation has also made great progress. We can make full use of our advanced movie technology to show Chinese culture to global audience and help Chinese movies go international," said Dodd.
At the Chinese box-office, co-produced movies often bring in more distribution revenue than imported foreign movies. "Profit is the biggest power for Chinese and foreign companies to co-produce movies," said Shi Nan Sun, a well-known Hong Kong film maker.
Last year 47 Chinese movies were sold to about 60 countries. Of those, 46 were co-produced by domestic and overseas companies.
"Co-production is the best way to create business value for movies," said Han Sanping, Chairman of China Film Group Corp. "Co-production can provide more distribution channels for a movie. Chinese companies can distribute the movie on the mainland, in Hong Kong and Taiwan while foreign partners can sell the movie to international markets. So co-produced movies bring more profit and gain for both sides."
In addition to commercial movies, many directors of artistic films are trying to attract investment and produce work with the help of overseas partners in co-production.
Movie Gross Admissions
Godzilla vs Kong US$27.23(M) 5188502
Monkey King Reborn US$5.37(M) 1130307
The Eleventh Chapter US$3.38(M) 609554
Avatar US$1.67(M) 335533
Warrior of China US$1.46(M) 204279
Hi, Mom US$1.34(M) 251616
Super Me US$1.01(M) 193455
The Wings of songs US$0.97(M) 146927
Tomorrow Will Be F... US$0.88(M) 168024