The Chinese Film Industry Is Ready for Its Close-Up

A nascent business is now ranked third in global earnings and is set to surpass India’s Bollywood in four years.



The Chinese film industry has made a sudden leap onto the global big screen in recent months. Having wrapped up a year that grossed $1.5 billion in box office earnings, the country is now set to surpass India by 2015. India grossed $2.2 billion this year and the United States grossed $11 billion.

In 2010, 500 films were made in China and the country has a total of 313 movie theaters and 6,200 screens, 1,533 of which were added just last year–that’s an average of between three and four new screens added every day.

China’s film industry has started to emerge from a solely state-run enterprise into a global endeavor, with recent investments in both Hollywood and Bollywood marking the country’s new film prowess.

Goldstruck is one such project–a joint Indian-Chinese film that has the support of both private and state-backed funding.

“Chinese audiences are interested in Indian films and dance, but have little opportunity to experience Indian cinema,” says Cindy Shyu, CEO of Lighthouse Productions. “This film, I hope, will fill that gap.” 


So what’s behind the industry’s rise?

“This isn’t so much government-driven as a broadly industry-driven project that seeks to cash in on an inviting market,” says Indian envoy representative to Beijing, S. Jaishankar. 

Hollywood has, of course, taken notice. Christian Bale, a star of many American movies (most recently The Fighter, for which he is generating Oscar buzz), has been cast in a leading role in a Chinese-produced film–a first for the nascent industry. The film, Thirteen Women of Nanjing, starts shooting this month and is being directed by leading Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

“The strategy for China’s film industry is to go abroad. It is a goal for the future and matches China’s fast development,” says Yimou.

Producer Zhang Weiping was instrumental in hiring Bale.


“Investors first and foremost think about the market, unlike Yimou, who is focused on art,” says Weiping. “We invited Bale to join because I am thinking about the market and because we want the world to better understand Chinese culture.”

“Hollywood stars are expensive,” he adds, “but they are worth it because they can influence the whole world.”

Film fever has been spreading to rural areas, too. “Every village now screens a film once a month,” says Wang Taihua, director of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). Okay, yes, one film a month might not actually cause a fever, but that’s how it starts–just ask Hollywood.

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.

[Image: flickr user nicolas genin]

About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.