The Cinema of China is one of three distinct historical threads of Chinese-language cinema together with the Cinema of Hong Kong and the Cinema of Taiwan. China has restrictions on foreign movies and the content of movies. Currently, the vast majority of the Mainland-produced movies use Mandarin. Mainland films are often dubbed into Cantonese when exported to Hong Kong for theatrical runs.
As of 2010 Chinese cinema is the third largest film industry by number of feature films produced annually. In 2011 Chinese films earned 54% of a total box office of US$2.06 billion. China’s box-office receipts grew 33.3 percent in 2011 and by the first quarter of 2012, it has surpassed Japan in box-office receipts by becoming the second-largest in the world.
More Big Movies and the largest movie market around 2018
Hollywood will adapt to and merge with the Chinese movie market and other international markets.
Price Waterhouse Coopers has released its 2012 annual Global Media Outlook. It’s a 5-year forecast analyzing the future of 13 industries internationally. According to the Outlook, film entertainment revenue is expected to rise more than 14-billion dollars in the next five years.
The study found shows that in 2011 North American box office spending fell nearly 4 percent. Ticket sales here dipped to their lowest levels since the mid-1990’s.
Let the Bullets Fly Poster
He said, “Why the Hollywood, North-American market is slowing down. I think it’s pretty much saturated at this point. It’s reached a kind of plateau.”
The study projects Asian movie revenues will increase by 5 billion dollars the next 5 years-led primarily by gains in China. China will even surpass North America to become the largest and most lucrative film market in the world.
James Cameron has been in discussions for coproductions in China. Avatar and Titanic were very successful in China and it appears that China is on track to become the largest movie market. A deal made February, 2012 has paved the way for the import of 14 premium format films, such as IMAX or 3-D, which will be exempt from China’s annual quota of 20 foreign films per year. Chinese film makers having been working to pay Cameron for his expertise in making successful 3D big budget movies. Those coproductions will be considered domestic movies but will use 3D and big budget movie effects.
Commercial Successes of Domestic Chinese Films
Feng Xiaogang’s The Dream Factory (1997) was one of the first to bridge the gap between critical acclaim and successful commercialism. The Dream Factory was heralded as a turning point in Chinese movie industry, a hesui pian (Chinese New Year-screened film) which demonstrated the viability of the commercial model in China’s socialist market society. Feng has become the most successful commercial director in the post-1997 era. All of his films made high returns domestically while he used ethnic Chinese co-stars like Rosamund Kwan, Jacqueline Wu, Rene Liu and Shu Qi to boost his films’ appeal.
Today, owing to the influx of Hollywood films (though the number screened each year is curtailed), Chinese domestic cinema faces mounting challenges. Though the industry is growing, few domestic films save those by Feng make the box office impact of major Hollywood blockbusters like Titanic (1997). In January 2010 James Cameron’s Avatar was pulled out from non-3D theaters for Hu Mei’s biopic Confucius, but this move led to a backlash on Hu’s film. Zhang Yang’s 2005 Sunflower also made little money, but his earlier, low-budget Spicy Love Soup (1997) grossed ten times its budget of ¥3 million. Likewise, the 2006 Crazy Stone, a sleeper hit, was made for just 3 million HKD/US$400,000. In 2009-11, Feng’s Aftershock (2009) and Jiang Wen’s Let the Bullets Fly (2010) became China’s highest grossing domestic films, with Aftershock earning RMB 640 million (US$97.4 million) and Let the Bullets Fly RMB 730 million (US$111 million).
Chinese cinema’s successes beyond 1980 has led to the classifications of “The Fifth Generation” and “Sixth Generation”, but some major directors have not been categorized into either, owing to the rather specialized genres they work under. He Ping is a director of mostly Western-like films set in Chinese locale. His Swordsmen in Double Flag Town (1991) and Sun Valley (1995) explore narratives set in the sparse terrain of West China near the Gobi Desert. His historical drama Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker (1994) won a myriad of prizes home and abroad.
Recent cinema has seen Chinese cinematographers direct some acclaimed films. Other than Zhang Yimou, Lü Yue made Mr. Zhao (1998), a black comedy film well received abroad. Gu Changwei’s minimalist epic Peacock (2005), about a quiet, ordinary Chinese family with three very different siblings in the post-Cultural Revolution era, took home the Silver Bear prize for 2005 Berlin International Film Festival. Hou Yong is another cinematographer who made films (Jasmine Women, 2004) and TV series. There are actors who straddle the dual roles of acting and directing. Xu Jinglei, a popular Chinese actress, has made four movies to date. Her second film Letter from an Unknown Woman (2004) landed her the San Sebastián International Film Festival Best Director award. The most highly regarded Chinese actor-director is undoubtedly Jiang Wen, who has directed several critically acclaimed movies while following on his acting career. His directorial debut, In the Heat of the Sun (1994) was the first PRC film to win Best Picture at the Golden Horse Film Awards held in Taiwan. His other films, like Devils on the Doorstep (2000, Cannes Grand Prix) and Let the Bullets Fly (2010), were similarly well received. By the early 2011, Let the Bullets Fly has become the highest grossing domestic film in China’s history
International appeal mounted after the immense international success of Ang Lee’s period wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, which earned Ang and Chinese cinema massive commercial and critical acclaim abroad. Other films such as Farewell My Concubine, 2046, Suzhou River, The Road Home and House of Flying Daggers have also been critically acclaimed around the world.
Chinese bought AMC and is the largest movie theater chain
In May, 2012 China’s Dalian Wanda Group and AMC Entertainment made a $2.6 billion deal to take over the U.S. theater group, forming the world’s largest cinema chain. Wanda, a private company that previously operated solely in China, generates $16.7 billion in annual revenue from its commercial development and entertainment businesses, the company said. The group owns 86 theaters with 730 screens in China.
In April, The Walt Disney Company China, Marvel Studios and DMG Entertainment of Beijing announced a production deal in which “Iron Man 3” will be co-produced in China. That follows the February announced that a $330 million joint venture between DreamWorks Animation, China Media Capital (CMC) and two other Chinese companies to establish a China-focused family entertainment company, Oriental DreamWorks.
In April, 2012 came revelations, first reported by Reuters, that the Securities and Exchange Commission sent inquiries to 20th Century Fox, Disney and DreamWorks about whether Hollywood studios were paying bribes to get a foothold in the China theater market.
Big budgets for TV as well
Three Kingdoms is a Chinese television series based on events in the late Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The plot is based on Luo Guanzhong’s classical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, and other related stories. Directed by Gao Xixi, the series had a budget of over 180 million yuan (US$30 million) and was released in May 2010. The series was well received both domestically and internationally, earning an estimated 800 million yuan (US$133.3 million) in total as of May 2012.
Three Kingdoms DVD cover art