China, which in the past had little interest in U.S.-produced films, has started to open up, according to the New York Times. And Hollywood is racing to get its movies screened in the 1.3 billion-person country. The Chinese government increased the quota of foreign-made films it allows inside its borders. Many U.S. movie companies are avoiding the quota issue entirely by partnering with Chinese businesses to co-produce movies.
China also wants to break into Hollywood. The U.S. is still the biggest market in the world for movies. The Chinese Dalian Wanda group just purchased the AMC movie chain for $1.6 billion and, last week, one of China’s largest film studios, Huayi Bros. Group announced it has partnered with the North American-based IMAX Corporation to produce its films in the company’s eye-popping format in China and potentially abroad.
It seems that the Chinese are embracing every aspect of the movie business. But what they’re not doing is making movies that are popular in the U.S. According to acclaimed Chinese film-maker Chen Kaige, they shouldn’t even try. “The problem is that there is still quite a big cultural gap between East and West,” he told Channel News Asia. “I’m not sure that Western audiences are that interested in films made in the East, honestly.”
Perhaps Kaige, whose movie Farewell my Concubine has won international acclaim, protests too much. Of course, there’s a cultural gap between two countries with such different histories, but given the success of U.S. movies in China, it would seem that gap is not insurmountable.
And if Chinese audiences like a distinctly American film like Iron Man, perhaps a distinctly Chinese movie would do well in the U.S. Bottom line, Chinese movie makers need to figure out what audiences want, both outside and inside their borders.
Hollywood, which has a long history in international marketing, is already a step ahead in targeting its products to Chinese audiences. In one novel example, the L.A. Times reported that the movie marketing firm Cimarron Group has hired interns from USC business school who also happen to be Chinese nationals to research movie trends in China.
On the other side, Han Sanping, president of the state-owned China Film Group, has visions of using a whole host of foreigners to help develop China’s film industry.
“We must try and attract more foreign technologists, expertise, producers, investors, distributors, directors, actors and artists, to come and collaborate with us on high-quality co-productions,” Han told the New York Times. “And then learn from them.”
Something interesting may arise from this cross-cultural collaboration and competition, although it’s hard to shake old movie stereotypes. For instance, rumors have it that Iron Man 3, which is being filmed partially in China, has cast the famous Chinese actor Wang Xueqi. His role? Radioactive Man—Iron Man’s arch-enemy.