China Film File: Beijing Festivities, America’s Dominance, And Norway’s Niceness

Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In today’s news: the 4th annual Beijing Film Festival brings deals, industry happenings and radical statements courtesy of director Oliver Stone.

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Captain America.

China can’t seem to get enough Captain America as the film continues its top slot in the box offices for a second week pulling in over $80 million so far in the mainland. If you wonder why a patriotic American superhero has enthralled Chinese filmgoers so profoundly, reviews on China’s film review megasite douban may elaborate why the film resonated. “To love one’s country isn’t the same as loving one’s government: this is the main draw of Captain America.” For more on this topic, The Week has published an interesting analysis of the film’s popularity in China.

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(Box office results courtesy of Box Office Mojo.)

China’s most important international film event, the star-studded 4th annual Beijing Film Festival, kicked off this Wednesday bringing a flood of deals, industry happenings, and controversial statements. Running until April 23, the BFF will feature screenings of over 280 films from all over the world to cater to industry figures and cinephiles alike. It will also feature an awards ceremony chaired by director John Woo. At the festival, Woo opened up to speak about his views on China’s film industry and his hopes for a more complex and diverse market.

“To be honest, I think our film industry is chaotic, there are too many people aiming for quick success, and the ’swarming phenomenon’ is more serious. For instance, if a certain type of movie can make money, then we all rush to shoot the same type of movie, so the audience loses the right to choose. When I decide to shoot a movie, I am usually very cautious, like if I shoot a movie now, will anyone watch it again after two years? Or is there anyone who will remember this movie after a decade?”

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John Woo at the BFF. (Clifford Coonan)

Spotted on the red carpet of this year’s event were French actors Jean Reno and Lea Seydoux along with a cadre of China’s top talent like Fan Bingbing and Zhang Ziyi.  Recently scandalized director Zhang Yimou was also present, along with Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron and America’s Oliver Stone.

One of the major industry advances at this year’s BFF was a statement concerning the nature of the incoming imported film quota increases. While earlier rumors concerning 10 more slots for art house productions in the near future seem to be increasingly verified, a statement from Lu Hongshi, VP of China movie channel CCTV-6, holds that the imported film quota will see major increases between 2017 and 2018. While the success of China’s domestic films in 2014 has been strongly aided by the restriction of imported fare, policy shifts like this may display a confidence in China’s homespun and co-produced film industry to hold traction down the road with mainland audiences.

China Film Co., the mainland’s largest film distributor, announced at the BFF two separate American co-production deals. One is with Paramount for a 3D fantasy action film about explorer Marco Polo, while the other is an investment in two films to be produced by California-based Legendary Films. With past accomplishments like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, along with the Hangover films, Legendary’s upcoming fantasy pictures Seventh Son and Warcraft are slated for 2015 and 2016, respectively, and have cumulatively received an eight-figure investment from the mainland distributor.

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Jeff Bridges in Legendary’s upcoming Seventh Son.

A panel at the BFF about American and Chinese co-productions found Oliver Stone taking the opportunity to criticize China’s policy of only glorifying Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. The panel also featured Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron and was moderated by the president of China’s largest film distributor, China Film Co.’s Zhang Xun.

No stranger to controversial subjects in China, Stone remarked to applause that China’s filmmakers need to be able to turn inwards and deal with China’s sometimes painful history in order for culture to advance in the mainland.

“Mao Zedong has been lionized in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticized. It’s about time. You got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution. You do that, you open up, you stir the waters and you allow true creativity to emerge in this country. That would be the basis of real co-production.”

Oliver Stone at the BFF.

Oliver Stone speaking at the BFF.

In non-BFF related news, Norway recently returned a rare, once-thought lost print of a Chinese film from 1927 to the mainland. The film, Cave of the Silken Web was based on the Chinese popular folk tale Journey to the West and was given as part of a larger initiative from Norway to return historical artifacts to China, which has already included other antiques like pieces from Beijing’s Summer Palace. Many believe the move to be aimed at easing diplomatic tensions between the two countries that were sparked in 2010 by the Nobel Peace Prize award to imprisoned Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo.

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A shot from Cave of the Silken Web. (SCMP)

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