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Chinawood - Chinese Film Industry

Some industry observers had speculated that China's annual box office sales could surpass North America's as soon as 2017. By 2020 the Chinese box office revenue was about US$8.6 billion, while the American box office revenue was just over US$11 billion. The Shanghai Festival is now one of the top seven film festivals in the world and that the Festival has been successful building a name for itself. In 2015, foreign films had a 45.5 percent market share, in large part due to the success of the U.S. blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction, and 67 foreign films were released in China in 2014. Thirty-three of those were released on a flat-fee basis and 34 on revenue- sharing basis, meeting the full quota of films. The US–China film deal of 2012 allows for 14 additional movie imports of new format films in 3D or animation on a revenue sharing basis. China’s overall import quota on a revenue sharing basis now stands at 34 films annually for all countries.

At least 70 percent of film crews in mainland China are now based at Hengdian World Studios. Located in East China's Zhejiang Province, China's largest film base boasts recreations of numerous historic locations such as a town from the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC), the Forbidden City and Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasty palaces. In 2020 the censorship of movies passed from being a government body to a communist party body. Communist Party censorship shows a very benign view of China, in which China is a normal country.

Confidence in the Chinese film industry doesn't necessarily extend to industries overseas, especially Hollywood. As the Trump administration orders retaliatory bans on Chinese tech companies such as Tik Tok and WeChat, officials and civic groups have growing concerns about the influence China has over Hollywood. In the disaster movie, "2012," humanity is saved because the Chinese government had the foresight to build life-saving arcs. In "Gravity," Sandra Bullock survives by getting herself to the Chinese Space Station. That movie did so well in China, she went back and re-shot "The Blindside" with an underprivileged table tennis player.

An August 2020 report said that Hollywood companies have been censoring films to avoid losing access to China’s lucrative box office market, adding that China was effectively influencing movies released in cinemas around the world. The 94-page report, published Wednesday, was compiled by the New York-based free speech organization Pen America, and said key players in Hollywood are increasingly making decisions about their films “based on an effort to avoid antagonizing Chinese officials who control whether their films gain access to the booming Chinese market.” It said that in some instances, filmmakers or directors have directly invited Chinese government censors onto their film sets to advise them on “how to avoid tripping the censors’ wires.” Actors Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Selena Gomez and Sharon Stone are presumed to be blacklisted for participating in films critical of China, the report said. Richard Gere disappeard from sight because he was promoting the Dalai Lama.

In February 2016, Chinese cinemas pulled in a record 6.87 billion yuan ($1.06 billion) in ticket sales, with monthly box office sales overtaking North America's for the first time, according to statistics from the film bureau of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

China had become the second largest film market with its box office sales reaching 44 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) in 2015, up 48.7 percent from 2014. Domestic films dominated, earning 27.1 billion yuan in ticket sales, or 61.58 percent of the country's total, but they still faced fierce competition from Hollywood. By 2016 imported films were capped at 64 each year to protect the domestic movie industry, and 35 American movies accounted for 85 percent of revenues of foreign films.

Motion pictures were introduced to China in 1896. The first attempt at filmmaking was Conquering Jun Mountain (1905). The Chinese film industry didn't begin until 1913 when Zheng Zhengqiu and Zhang Shichuan shot the first Chinese movie The Difficult Couple (1913). During the 1920s film technicians from the United States trained Chinese technicians in Shanghai, an early filmmaking center, and American influence continued to be felt there for the next two decades. China's first "talkie" was The Songstress, Red Peony (1931) played by the then "film queen" Butterfly Hu (Hu Die in Chinese) and produced by the Star Studio, Shanghai's largest film production studio.

Before the 1930s, owing to a lack of creativity, films made in China didn't exert a big influence in its history. Since then, the story of the film industry in China is like a summary of the nation's modern history, dealing with people's tortured and revolutionary life before 1949, the war of resistance against Japanese aggression, the civil war, the establishment and frustrating era of the PRC, its economic development and challenges to the status quo after WTO entry.

During 1933 and 1935, the left-wing movement (resistance against imperialism and feudalism) in filmmaking was introduced to Shanghai and flourished. Torrents (1933) (Kuangliu in Chinese), directed by Xia Yan and Cheng Bugao and produced by the Star Studio, was the first film of this genre. Many famed directors came to the fore and made outstanding contributions in art and literature, such as Yuan Muzhi's Street Angel (1937) and Shen Xiling's Crossroad (1937). They brought the darker, seamier side of society to light and gave expression to the wishes of the people to pursue their dreams as well as rebel against imperialism and feudalism. A great variety of artistic images were born and a number of acclaimed actors and actresses emerged. Butterfly Hu, Zhao Dan, Zhou Xuan and Shu Xiuwen were among them.

In the 1940s, on the eve of China's liberation, filmmaking was in a chaotic state and some profiteers seized the chance to shoot blue films and scary movies. However there were still some wonderful films being made thanks to the concerted efforts of conscientious filmmakers, who made classics such as Spring River Flows Eastward (1947) by Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli, Crow and Sparrow (1949) by Chen Baichen and Zheng Junli and Light of Million Hopes (1948) by Shen Fu. These films had high artistic value in screenplay writing, directing, performance, cinematography, music, art design and other aspects. Filmmaking developed more quickly in the 1940s than it had in the 1930s.

China's film industry experienced hardships and setbacks after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The beginning was brilliant with many fine movies showing on the screen. Most of these tell stories about the war of resistance against the Japanese aggression as well as about the civil war, such as Dong Cunrui (1955) by Guo Wei and The Red Detachment of Women (1961) by Xie Jin. These movies made everything seem fresh due to lively roles and plot. But at the same time they had a severe shortage and were limited by a lack of individual artistic character as well as different photographic style. Artistic rules were usually neglected. In this aspect, films made in the 1950s were inferior to those made earlier. In the 17 years between the establishment of the PRC and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), 603 feature films and 8,342 reels of documentary and news were made. The first wide-screen film was produced in 1960.

Filmmaking fell on "disaster time" during the Cultural Revolution. The film industry was severely restricted and no film was shot in the period 1966 and 1972. Films made between 1973-76 were strongly affected by revolutionary thinking and became tools of the Gang of Four. The films made then more or less reflected the real situation of China during the Cultural Revolution.

In the years immediately following the "Cultural Revolution", artists in film began to free their minds and the film industry again flourished as a medium of popular entertainment. Animated films using a variety of folk arts, such as paper cuts, shadow plays, puppetry, and traditional painting, were also very popular with children.

In the 1980s, China's filmmakers started an all-round exploration and the range of film subjects extended. Films depicting the good and evil of the "Cultural Revolution" were very popular with the ordinary person. Many realism films reflecting the transformation of society as well as people's ideology were produced.

Early in 1984, a film One and Eight (1984) made mainly by the graduates of the Beijing Film Academy shocked China's film industry. The film, together with Chen Kaige's Yellow Earth (1984) made people experience the magic of the fifth generation of filmmakers, including Wu Ziniu, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Huang Jianxin and He Ping. Amongst this group Zhang Yimou first won an international prize with Red Sorghum (1987). Unlike the middle-aged fourth generation directors, they broke with traditional filmmaking, in screenplay and film structure as well as narrative. In January 1986 the film industry was transferred from the Ministry of Culture to the newly formed Ministry of Radio, Film and Television to bring it under "stricter control and management" and to "strengthen supervision over production."

In the 1990s, China experienced prosperity in its film industry. At the same time the government allowed the showing of foreign movies from 1995. More of China's films won awards at international film festivals, such as Ju Dou (1990) and To Live (1994) by Zhang Yimou, Farewell My Concubine (1993) by Chen Kaige, Blush (1994) by Li Shaohong, and Red Firecracker Green Firecracker (1993) by He Ping. However, these films encountered more and more criticism, in particular for their stylized form and neglect of audience response and absence of representation of the spiritual bewilderment of the people during the transformation of Chinese society.

American companies were working to gain better entry to the China market. These activities include increased cooperation with the Hong Kong film industry and co-productions such as the Universal production of the third installment of The Mummy movie series. Since the start of 2008 an average 1.3 new theater screens had been added in China per day rpt day, and MPAA/MPA member companies hoped that the growing number of private Chinese cinemas will put increasing pressure on the Chinese Government to allow in more foreign films.

In 2013, Chinese authorities doubled the number of foreign films for import and allowed foreign enterprises to invest in Chinese film production companies. China's film professionals since learned a lot from US producers and distributors, and the market posted average annual growth of 30 percent.

In 2015, 12 China-US co-productions received administrative approval, with seven of them already having completed filming. Among the most successful was Kung Fu Panda 3, which grossed nearly 1 billion yuan in the domestic market and did well in North America.

Thre was potential to make additional money from DVD releases as/if the China Film Board changed it policies on windows to allow DVD releases closer to theater release dates and piracy issues are addressed. The usual delay between allowed screenings in China and subsequent permission to sell legitimate DVDs cedes the market for DVDs to pirates. One of China's highest earning movies in 2008 was "Red Cliff," which earned RMB 600 million -- of which only RMB 5 million came from DVD sales, despite China flooding the market with real DVDs simultaneously with theatrical screenings. The pirated DVD industry is well entrenched. Until Chinese policies have a pro-business tilt, legitimate screenings and legitimate DVD sales will suffer, as will the cinema industry.

One bright spot for the domestic Chinese film industry was cooperation between Chinese and US industry leaders and investors. Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group announced it had acquired leading Hollywood film production company Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion in January 2016. State-run enterprise CITIC Group established the first China-US joint film venture in April 2015 by working with Dick Cook, president and CEO of Dick Cook Studios (DCS). CITIC planned to invest $150 million in the studio and become one of the largest shareholders, while also setting up a branch in Beijing.

US producers and exporters will compete for the online generation in China with the “BATs,” namely the three Internet giants in China: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, which have all moved into film production. Dalian Wanda Group, China’s largest cinema owner, which acquired US AMC in 2012, is building a movie studio to rival Hollywood studios in Qingdao. In April 2012 Chinese entrepreneur Bruno Wu’s Harvest Seven Stars Entertainment linked up with the Tianjin city government to build Chinawood, a $1.27 billion film and media hub that will sprawl over a whopping 8.6 million square feet. The project is aimed at luring US and other foreign productions and will provide a hub for co-productions, which are exempt from Chinese import quotas. Some 35% of the investment is earmarked for film financing.

The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive or selectively censored parts of films before they were released, including Bohemian Rhapsody and Top Gun: Maverick. Under government regulations, authorities must authorize each foreign film released in the country, with a restriction on the total number that keeps annual distribution below 50 films.

Domestic films continued to be subject to government censorship. In July 2019 the head of the government’s film regulatory body, the National Film Bureau, gave a speech to government officials and film industry representatives exhorting them to use films to promote Chinese political values. Throughout the year the government forbade the release of a number of new movies–including several films with prominent directors and large budgets–because they ran afoul of government censors. Shortly before its 06 July 2019 release date, the historical war drama The Eight Hundred was removed from distribution despite numerous theatrical trailers and an $80 million budget. Similarly, in February 2019 the film One Second by world-famous director Zhang Yimou was pulled from the Berlin Film Festival only days before its debut for “technical difficulties,” a common euphemism for censorship in China. Another film, Better Days, was pulled from the same festival after the movie failed to receive the necessary permissions from Chinese authorities. The head of the National Film Bureau explicitly encouraged domestic filmmakers to find more “valuable and heavy” topics and materials in the country’s “excellent traditional culture,” “revolution culture,” and “advanced culture of socialism.”

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Page last modified: 01-08-2021 14:07:10 ZULU