Hollywood lusts for China film sales, with caution

Hollywood filmmakers are joining forces with Chinese companies to gain a foothold in the Asian nation's huge movie market - but obstacles remain in the form of commercial restrictions and censorship.

China is by far the world's fastest-growing cinema market and, despite official barriers to entry and limits on artistic freedom, the world's second-largest economy is proving a huge draw for foreign filmmakers.

Chinese box office sales rose 64 percent last year to $1.5 billion, as economic woes sent the 2010 US box office down 5.72 percent to a 13-year low of $10.57 billion.

In recent weeks, two of Hollywood's biggest names, Relativity Media - producer of "The Social Network" - and Legendary Pictures, maker of "Inception", have announced deals to make films for the Chinese market.

Both hope to produce movies that will appeal to both Chinese and wider international audiences - a potentially lucrative plan but one that industry insiders said should nonetheless be approached with caution.

State-run companies still control the importing and distribution of foreign films in China, despite a 2009 World Trade Organisation ruling that overseas firms should be allowed greater participation.

China also protects its domestic industry by only allowing around 20 foreign movies to be screened a year, making it difficult for overseas studios to capitalise on growing demand from the country's emerging middle class.

"China lost the WTO case and is supposed to let foreign companies into distribution," said commercial lawyer Steve Dickinson, who has practised in China since 1991 and whose firm has clients in the industry.

"But the law hasn't changed - it's just in flux and the bottom line is that everything is still subject to Beijing's approval," he told AFP.

Hollywood films are on average twice as profitable as China's local productions, but co-productions that bring foreign filmmaking expertise to bear are increasingly lucrative.

Working with a Chinese partner to make movies with local investment and talent allows foreign filmmakers to get around the import cap.

Foreign partners can also negotiate a larger share of the takings from co-productions, which in the first half of 2011 accounted for 32 percent of the box office for Chinese-language films in the country, than they can for imports.

Relativity said it would co-produce what it called "cross cultural" films with Beijing-based Huaxia Film Distribution and SkyLand Film-Television Culture Development.

Legendary and its Chinese partner, Huayi Brothers Media, have announced plans to make a movie titled "The Great Wall" about the origins of the Chinese icon, and have signed Edward Zwick of "Last Samurai" fame to direct.

But experts warned that censorship could be a problem for foreign companies unused to China's sometimes unpredictable restrictions on artistic freedom.

In 2007, Xinhua said censors halved actor Chow Yun-fat's screen time as a villain in Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" because his scenes were "vilifying and defacing the Chinese".

This June, state media quoted acclaimed director Jia Zhangke saying that he had abandoned a spy film because of limits on freedom of expression, and censorship had stopped him making a film about a man's sex life.

"If I want to make the movie here, I have to portray all the communists as superheroes," Jia said. "This kind of cultural over-cleanliness that bans the erotic, violent and terrifying is cultural naivety."

Peter Shiao, who chairs the US-China Film Summit annual industry gathering, said: "This is a transformative moment because the economics are right to make movies that appeal to both markets."

But added: "Despite the 60-plus-percent growth, making films here is not as easy as it might seem."

There are also concerns that while co-productions in Chinese might sell well in China, exporting them could be tough.

Few Chinese-language films - with the exception of Zhang Yimou's "Hero" and Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - have done well in big Western markets.

Earthquake drama "Aftershock", from Legendary's partner Huayi, fizzled earlier this year in United States cinemas, where subtitled films rarely perform well.

"The new partnerships are going to benefit Chinese companies in the short-term but many of them are not up to their Hollywood partners' level," Bai Qiang, chief executive of production company 3-D China, told AFP.

"Their ability to write scripts that will appeal outside China is very limited."

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?