China Film File: China At Cannes, Product Placement, And ‘Transformers’ Hype

Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In this week’s news: Spiderman‘s top spot, China’s presence at Cannes, and Alibaba’s new film company.


Spiderman 2.

This week’s box office results saw Hollywood import Spiderman 2 jump to the top of the list despite last week’s awkward opening date—which was definitely a protectionist move by China Film Group to give local productions My Old Classmate and The Hypnotist a competitive edge. Meanwhile, Zhang Yimou’s new drama Coming Home opened in China yesterday, and has already amassed a strong $5 million in the mainland’s box offices.

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(Box office results courtesy of Box Office Mojo.)

While China has a strong presence at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the form of Jia Zhangke on the jury, there are only three Chinese films competing in the Une Certain Regarde category and none for the festival’s main prize of Palme d’Or. Regarding the lack of Chinese films in the competition, many cite China’s money-oriented market and creative issues imposed by censors. Just in time for his presence at Cannes, BBC features an interview with Jia that covers the creation and subsequent burying of his award-winning film in China.

On the red carpet at the festival’s glamorous opening ceremony, Chinese mega-star Fan Bingbing was absent this year despite her previous show-stopping presence at the festival. This year, all eyes were on top Chinese actresses Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.


Gong Li graces the red carpet at Cannes.

Executives including Viacom head Phillipe Dauman are bullish that Transformers: Age of Extinction (the fourth film in the franchise) is set to dominate the Chinese market. With many parts shot in China, the film has definitely had the mainland market in sight from the beginning. One progressive move to advertise the film in China was the organization of a reality show on China’s CCTV cable network that offered a bit part in the upcoming film. In a demonstration of the growing importance of the Asian market to Paramount, the blockbuster finds its world premier in Hong Kong on June 19th. 

Li Bingbing on the set of Transformers 4.

Li Bingbing on the set of Transformers 4.

After acquiring a 60 percent stake in mainland content provider ChinaVision and starting its own Kickstarter-like operation, Chinese firm Alibaba has registered a film production company in Hong Kong. Although details are slim, there are rumors that a few top directors including Wong Kar-wai are in the mix.

A recent article from The Wall Street Journal elaborates the motives and results behind the rise of Chinese product placement in Hollywood films. Chinese hard liquor company Jiannanchun paid an estimated $16 million to place an ad on a billboard in New York’s Times Square behind Spiderman in the recent Hollywood incarnation.  Not a new occurrence, the Transformers pictures had Shia Labeouf wearing one of Chinese fashion company Meters/bonwe’s t-shirts alongside placement for China’s leading milk brand Yili. Following these examples, the upcoming Transformers installment is expected to have placement for, among other things, a Chinese fast food restaurant.

Chinese dairy company Yili on the right.

A carton of milk from Chinese dairy company Yili is shown on the right.



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