Lights, Camera...China

By Alister Beecher

In 2001 Robbie Williams released the single “I Will Talk and Hollywood Will Listen”. It’s far too early to replace “I” with “China”, but there are signs that it’s a headline we may one day read.

While Chinese moviegoers can look forward to an unprecedented number of Hollywood movies being released throughout the country in December, more foreign movies will be shown in China from next year as Chinese producers’ influence in Hollywood grows.

The Chinese government currently permits just 34 foreign films to be released each year, although that number will reportedly jump next year.

December has always seen a slew of blockbusters released worldwide to capitalise on the holiday season and garner attention for the Academy Awards. It would appear the Chinese government made sure they didn’t reach their release quota in November.

This month the following five movies will hit China’s 12,000 movie screens:

1.     Allied – Robert Zemeckis

2.     Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Tim Burton

3.     Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson

4.     Sully – Clint Eastwood

5.     The Great Wall – Zhang Yimou

The five A-list directors and the studios behind them have access to the second largest movie market, which is anticipated to surpass the US by 2018.

For a long time, the Chinese government has been equally as wary of Hollywood productions potentially seizing market share from homegrown films as it has been about movies which give unflattering depictions of Chinese society or people. Movies are frequently banned due to political undertones, sex or violence.

Star Wars (1977) was released the year after the death of Mao Zedong. The movie was never released in China as Mao had forbidden any aspect of western culture. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on the mainland in January, just one month after its premiere in Los Angeles. The long-awaited sequel would have been released in December 2015 had it not been for the quota of 34 already being met.

Last year Southpaw became the first American movie to be entirely financed by a Chinese company. The $US 30 million budget for the film, about a down and out boxer, was footed by Wanda Pictures. Wanda Group owns AMC theatres and is the second largest theatre chain in the United States – that’s one in every eight movie screens.

Wanda’s Chairman Wang Jianlin is China’s richest person, worth an estimated $US33.3 billion ($A44.6 billion). Legendary Entertainment became a subsidiary of Wanda earlier this year and has produced and/or financed several major motion pictures, including The Great Wall, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Hangover and its sequels.

Last year China Movie Channel and Alibaba Pictures co-produced the Paramount distributed Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. China Movie Channel also collaborated with Paramount on 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Walt Disney Studios co-produced Iron Man 3 with China’s DMG Entertainment Group. The movie smashed China’s opening-day box office record on its release in 2013.

Iron Man 3 was notable for its Chinese product placement featuring milk, medicine and electronics company TCL. China’s influence in Hollywood has become so strong that even plotlines have been altered to avoid offending the highly sensitive Communist Party.

For the action horror film World War Z, it was reported that Paramount changed a scene in the film in which the characters speculate that the zombie virus originated in China in hopes of landing a distribution deal in the country.

Chinese language and culture will ensure that homegrown movies will continue to dominate screen time in the world’s most populous country, but the saying “the only constant in life is change” is never more appropriate when referring to China.

Acclaimed director Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall is his first English-language film and the US-China co-production starring Matt Damon is the most expensive film to be produced in China.

Zhang is more than familiar with which issues the censors might take offence. His 1994 acclaimed drama To Live was banned for its critical portrayal of the Chinese Communist regime during the Cultural Revolution. He also copped a two-year ban from making movies in China.

Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it was announced that "wronged spirits and violent ghosts, monsters, demons, and other inhuman portrayals" were banned from audio visual content.

However, the future looks bright for China’s film industry. Wanda Group is currently building what will be the world’s largest movie studio complex. It is scheduled to open next year in the coastal city of Qingdao and will house 20 studios, eight hotels and a theme park.

It appears inevitable that Hollywood studios will announce more Chinese co-productions. Wanda’s move reflects not only the company’s global ambitions, but also China’s desire to exercise soft power through entertainment and culture. Mr Wang has publicly stated his company’s desire to control 20% of the global film market by 2020.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required