China Film File: ‘Black Coal’ Berlin Win, Youku’s Quota Hopes, And Romance’s Return

Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In today’s news: Black Coal takes Berlin, The Monkey King is dethroned, and Snowpiercer comes to China.


Box office upsetter Beijing Love Story.

This week, romance drama Beijing Love Story dethroned The Monkey King for the top rank at China’s box offices. Directed by Chen Sicheng, the TV spinoff set a new 2-D single day box office record at $16.1 million, beating out the release day of Where Are We Going, Dad?.


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Box office results courtesy of Ent. Group.

Black Coal, Thin Ice director Diao Yinan with actor Liao Fan. (Reuters/Tobias Schwarz)

Black Coal, Thin Ice director Diao Yinan with actor Liao Fan. (Reuters/Tobias Schwarz)

Diao Yinan’s stylish noir Black Coal, Thin Ice has taken the top award of Berlin’s film festival. While the award brings China’s state-governed film offerings to a bright international standing, the film apparently features extreme violence and some socially conscious themes. China’s film body claims they will release the film on the mainland, however. Even though Black Coal seems to feature less violence and fewer sensitive issues than Jia Zhangke’s Cannes award-winning A Touch of Sin, it’s possible that it might still receive the same treatment.

State mouthpiece China Daily published an editorial by Raymond Zhou, known as the Roger Ebert of China, regarding Black Coal that looks at the relationship between Chinese films that receive international festival recognition and the mainstream market. Zhou’s article is conservative, making the claim that directors looking for international awards might be diverting recourses and attention away from the mainstream China audience. Citing films that “have spawned imitators whose sole purpose is to win more awards and ignore the home market, thus losing it to foreign competition without even putting up a fight,” Zhou also writes,

“Without artistic excellence, which festivals tend to endorse, the industry will be seen as nouveaux riches with no culture. Hopefully, from now on Chinese cinema will not sacrifice one for the other, but rather, have the two complement each other.”

While artistic innovation is necessary for progress on the mainland, Zhou’s editorial is ultimately repressive in that it obscures the actual creative roadblock that Chinese filmmakers face. Fittingly, this issue was excellently put by the polemic director of the most-watched television special of all time, Feng Xiaogang. “In the past 20 years, every Chinese director has faced a great torment, and that torment is [expletive].”


Black Coal, Thin Ice.

Interestingly enough, Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s socially conscious, revolution-themed science-fiction film Snowpiercer is coming to China.



Recent statements from Victor Koo, the CEO of China’s Youtube, Youku, bring an update on last week’s news of China Film Group’s tease (and subsequent denial) that they would up the quota of Hollywood films in the mainland. Without giving any specifics, the head recently explained that China’s main film body won’t allow a higher quota of imported films until more screens are built. He added that as China’s movie infrastructure builds up, the quota system will be “relaxed over time.” It’s probable that independent video streaming businesses are pushing for an easing of the laws since it would only bring in more money to China’s entertainment economy; however, the real question is what are the new CFG head La Peikang’s plans for the future?

China Briefing published a report that briefly outlines the basics of investing into China’s film system.



Art & Design, Market Analysis