Two weeks ago I rescued a cat, conscious of the fact that I already have three young gundogs who’ll chase prey down in a nano second. Amazingly it’s all going quite well, mainly because said tabbycat is a confident little firecracker who stands his ground; dogs and cat circle each other warily, cat spitting distrustfully from time to time. This reminds me very much of the cautious, circling, inharmonious relationship between China and the Hollywood film industry. Hollywood seems to want a) Chinese money, and b) the windfalls that may come with extensive Chinese distribution. (Hollywood’s often been criticised for treating the Middle Kingdom as an ATM.) China, in contrast, wants to be a serious partner in the global market, and they want to prioritize distribution for their own Chinese cultural product (Hence the simultaneous release of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman to protect domestic releases.)
Fulfilling the potential of this odd couple relationship seems to rest on closer cooperation and understanding – in particular for Hollywood to understand that this is a working destination unlike anything else they will have experienced. For instance, for distribution into China, productions currently need to be structured as co-productions, which means at least one-third of the coin must come from China, the main cast must be Chinese, and part of the movie must be shot in the country. However, such heavily “foreign” films fare notoriously badly at the US box office – so trade-offs and compromises will have to be made. It’s not really going to be enough, I should think, to make a handful of Na’avi Chinese and think you have a winner. I’m also interested, on what to make of Christian Bale in Flowers of War – about to open here. It’s China’s first $100 million movie, with strong Chinese themes and characters, but a European protagonist. Quoting Bona Film Group COO Jeffrey Chan in Screen Daily:
Making films that appeal to local Chinese audiences is key. And those aren’t likely to necessarily going to be films that are about foreigners coming to China (a common theme pitched for co-productions).