Tinseltown East: China Headed For Hollywood Success?

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By Michelle FlorCruz | December 1, 2012 8:59 AM EST

China's film industry is slotted to overtake the US as the world's biggest film market by 2020. The nation continues to forge its way into various sectors proving themselves to be industry leaders, further establishing their position as global superpowers.

The estimates made in a report by Ernst & Young are an accurate portrayal of China's continuous move toward building their entertainment industry to not only to screen more movies nationwide but to also become movie-producing power players. 

According to The Guardian, China's largest entertainment group, Dalian Wanda Group, owned privately by a real-estate mogul, bought out US theater company AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. earlier this year for $2.6 billion. 

China's expansion plans include adding several thousand cinemas across the nation over the next five years. 

But in order to surpass the very established American film market, China's market needs to begin making high-caliber movies with international appeal that are produced locally and made by Chinese. Even Chinese (at least ethnically Chinese) celebrities need to break out of pigeonhole roles as martial arts experts.

However, Hollywood is starting to buy into China's growing industry. The third installment of Marvel's superhero franchise Iron Man was co-produced by a Chinese company. As the movie prepares for its release, China will be involved in its marketing, keep a larger portion of revenues, and also exhibit the movie in theaters for a longer time, compared to other foreign movies.

Having a Chinese name behind the movie will also likely help ticket sales. Though Iron Man 3, as with many superhero franchise movies, already has a loyal fan following, additional fans will likely be made out of citizens excited about China's producing prospects.

Chris Fenton, the General Manager of the Chinese media agency DMG's North America offices, was quoted in Business Week saying the Chinese viewers are eager to see China compete in the industry.

"If the Chinese feel it's something of theirs, it helps in every way possible, it becomes relevant to them," he said. 

DMG is perhaps the channel in which Hollywood can start using China's market. This year's science-fiction time travel blockbuster Looper was financed in large part by DMG. Even scenes in the script, which originally took place in Paris, was changed to Shanghai after DMG was on board. This move toward a Hollywood-style production, and away from traditional scenes of kung-fu, lanterns, and old imperial cities is the direction that the industry aims to strive for. 

One young Chinese filmmaker, Xue Yin, or Fox, has a front row ticket to the budding industry. She sees the potential of the market, if some obstacles are overcome. 

"Everyone feels like China is going to take over the world.. So Chinese filmmakers, especially those who speak English, have a great advantage working with major Hollywood studio films in the future," she said.

However, China's deeply rooted culture could be its biggest disadvantage. 

"Culture and language barriers are still the biggest challenges for Chinese filmmakers. Feng Xiao Gang [another Chinese director] has great humor for his films, but those are inside jokes for [the] Chinese that if translated may not be universally funny."

Additionally, Fox thinks that the Beijing government should relinquish some control over the industry. The Chinese Film Bureau still has many restrictions on the content, and degrees of vulgarity that a movie can have, but without an official ratings system like the US MPAA system. 

"What steps they need to take? Well, that's a question of when the Chinese Film Bureau will embrace more sex scenes and more curse words on screen, or agree to show Chinese characters as villains in co-production films," Fox outlined.

Fox could be referring to movies like Men in Black III or Pirates of the Carribean: At Worlds End, where scenes of Chinese actors playing villans were cut from the screenings in China. 

Though original Chinese films reaching Hollywood blockbuster success may occur closer to the year 2020, the Chinese film market will continue to capitalize on giving soundstage, visual effects and other post-production resources as well as raking in profits from Hollywood co-production investments. 

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