Watch Your Back, Brad Grey—Chinese Cinema Ready to Take on the World


More and more Chinese industry is starting to look like America in the early part of the 20th century. First their car business began booming— sales in January were up an astounding 124% over the same period a year earlier. Now, that other distinctly American industry is taking robust hold in China: film.

In some ways, of course, the Chinese fascination with and skill in creating memorable films is nothing new—this is the country, after all, that gave the world martial arts flicks and the Hong Kong action genre, with such breakout superstars as Bruce Lee (American born; Chinese raised), Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, and the director John Woo. But as a viable domestic industry, the country has raised its game considerably over the last year alone. Revenues at the Chinese box office climbed to around $909 million in 2009, 30% higher than just five years ago, when ticket sales took in about $220 million. And there were 456 feature films made in China last year, 50 more than in 2008. Thirty-four distributors now compete for the 4,723 Chinese movie screens (a far cry from the 40,000 screens in the United States, true, but struggling domestic theaters suggest there isn't enough quality product to go around, anyway).

So what accounts for this surge in cinephiles? Primarily it is due to industry reforms implemented in 2002, when the previously state-controlled production and distribution system was busted wide open through the allowance of private funding to flow to filmmakers, producers, and distributors. The success that the active conglomerate Huayi Brothers Media company found in securing bank financing and a listing on the Chinese stock exchange, Shenzhen, has inspired others to follow suit.

All these impulses toward cinematic art and commerce may prove to be good news for American companies, too. Last year the U.S.-based real estate company Entertainment Properties Trust inked a deal to develop new Chinese multiplexes to accommodate the growing demand. Surely there will be additional opportunities for American importers, distributors, producers, and developers, as the young Chinese market matures. Should that happen, more folks in the States will be seeing films like the 2002 Chinese smash hit Hero, a masterful epic set in ancient China, and fewer movies like The Hot Chick starring Rob Schneider, an American effort also released in 2002.

[Via: Beijing Review]

Image: BR

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  • Harveen Singh

    I have seen many movies of Bruce Lee. They just rock. Chinese movies are really amazing and people like the action movies in other parts of the world.
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  • Bridget Coila

    I think the biggest problem here in China with regard to building a film industry that can export movies out is the issue of quality control. A few of the things that I've heard about (my partner and many of our friends are in the industry here):

    "the DP got fired and the new DP pressed the wrong button so we spent the day shooting before someone figured out the camera was not on"

    "no one secured the location beforehand so the producer had to bribe the property owner with a bunch of cartons of cigarettes to get permission"

    "someone spilled soup in the camera"

    "the actress/singer is suing us because she doesnt like the way she looked in this music video- she says we made her 40 year old self look old"

    "three extras have been hospitalized in the last two movies I've been in. Last week some elderly lady fell off a bridge while filming. They kept shooting to finish the scene."

    I could go on... but I wont. to previous commenter- Avatar wasn't pulled here. I went and saw it a few weeks ago here in Beijing at Sanlitun village MegaBox theater. It's still playing there last I saw, in both English ( w subtitles) and Chinese dubbed. The PRC does limit imports, but Avatar wasnt one of them. They limit by number- only a certain number of foreign movies can come in each year. Generally, we get the big blockbusters.

    Bridget (American expat in Beijing)

  • John Ylod

    Well this is not a surprise. Chinese people will/do compete with the rest of the world in every single area, not only cars or movies.John Ylod

  • J Mosley

    Points of contention:
    1. Bruce Lee was raised in Hong Kong, not China (even at that time).
    2. This article is referenced from a PRC mouthpiece.
    3. Chinese films create high revenues probably due to a combination of three situations: (a) cultural identity, (b) PRC limits imports to those complying with censorship laws (ref. Avatar being pulled) and (c) China has a large population (since when does gross revenue equate to quality).

    Yes, we could compare Hero to the Hot Chick... but I could also compare any number of other films as well to prove my point.

    Thanks for the propaganda.