Chinese Movies Struggling to Go Global
The issue of Chinese movies "going global" became a hot topic for Chinese film-makers following the publication of a communiqué after the Third Plenary Session of the 17th Communist Party of China Central Committee, which lasted from October 15 to 18, 2011. The communiqué sought to enhance the soft power of Chinese culture around the globe.
After much deliberation, Chinese film industry insiders have concluded that Chinese movies are facing three major problems in their attempts to gain worldwide recognition.
As one of the major forces within China's cultural industry, the quality and output of movies are considered an important manifestation of the soft power and influence of national culture. However, according to a survey carried out by Beijing Normal University, entitled "The International Survival Conditions of Chinese Movies", few foreign respondents have watched a Chinese film; many respondents still consider Chinese films to be restricted to Kung Fu movies; aside from Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, other Chinese actors are not well known; and most Chinese directors remain unknown aside from Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou.
According to statistics published by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), in the export sales of home-grown movie productions three areas are lacking—a lack of overseas box office revenues, the lack of consecutive growth in overseas box office revenues and a lack of Chinese films being screened in mainstream foreign cinemas.
Chinese film-makers should also be aware that those blockbuster movies which broke into the "100 Million Club", meaning that sales broke the 100 million yuan mark in China, were left out in the cold in foreign markets. For example, "Aftershock," directed by Feng Xiaogang, broke box office revenues on the mainland but failed to make a mark in America, raking in only $60,000. Even "Red Cliff", produced by John Woo, grossed only $620,000 in America and was branded a failure.
Yang Heping, chief of the Dubbing Center of the China Film Group, said in an interview that, "Some Sino-foreign co-productions made some achievement but there is no real Chinese culture being transported to foreign audiences through those movies." Another professor from Beijing Film Academy Huang Shixian stated that, "To whet the appetite of foreign audiences, some Chinese directors began to feature the dark side of our society such as fornication and love affairs. Those subjects were welcomed by foreign buyers and created the illusion that Chinese movies were going global. This is not success; we are controlled by western culture and western value standards."
Several experts have concluded that the failure of Chinese films to go global results from three problems within the industry.
Firstly, Chinese film-makers are not good story tellers. Li Daoxin, a professor from Peking University, analyzed the approach of Hollywood: "Hollywood blockbusters such as 'Avatar' and 'Transformers' revolve around the common views of human beings: truth, goodness and beauty. These values go beyond the barriers of nations and countries and can be accepted by the whole world… But our movies, such as 'Aftershock' and 'Let the Bullets Fly', were produced with a narrow approach, and were wholly intended for local audiences. They can hardly be accepted by foreign audiences. There are so many classic stories in China but our film-makers have failed to tell them on the big screen. Some of our stories were even used by Hollywood, allowing them to make money from our legacy. 'Mulan' and 'Kung Fu Panda' are very good examples of this."
The second problem facing the Chinese film industry is the standard of translations. Yang Heping said there are no professional translation institutions in China which regulate the subtitles of Chinese movies. "Rough translation standards have made our films difficult to understand for foreign people," he added. The president of the Beijing Film Academy, Zhang Huijun, went straight to the heart of the matter by saying, "Unlike Hollywood, Chinese translators gain very little from their work. There is no motivation for them to devote themselves to translating. Take 'Shrek 2' for instance, each translator on this Hollywood movie got 5% of the movie's revenue, which is over $ 10 million."
The final problem concerns the distribution channel. Currently, China has no established authoritative distribution companies through which to release productions. Domestic film companies have to find a distributor for themselves, which greatly reduces efficiency when trying to deliver a film to global audiences.
To solve these problems outlined above, three solutions have been proposed by various experts. The first solution is to follow the principle of "China's Themes with World Elements" during the film making process. Beijing Normal University invited a number of young American film academy graduates to Beijing to make short films about local culture. These movies were screened on the websites of foreign schools and managed to draw a significant number of foreign viewers.
Secondly, from a strategic point of view, the film industry as a whole should fully realize the importance of translating as an industry. While carrying out translations, the translator should stress ethnic styles rather than political concepts.
Finally, domestic film copyright owners, translation companies and foreign cinemas should work as a team.
Zhang Huijun has stated that relevant support policies and financial assistance are also required. Our government should offer an overseas marketing platform for Chinese film-makers, in order to provide them with an efficient channel through which to promote their movies.