Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In this week’s news: Angelina Jolie rubs China the wrong way, Zhang Yimou gets excited about Hollywood, and analysis reveals that China’s locally produced films are driving the recent film boom.
With box office sales of more than $25 million, the Tom Cruise action flick Edge of Tomorrow swept the lead from the high-grossing X-Men: Days of Future Past in China this week. While the numbers for next week aren’t in yet, it has just been reported that Godzilla’s premiere on the mainland today has already totaled close to $11 million, making it beyond likely that the giant monster reboot will be towering over China’s box office results next week.
(Box office results courtesy of Box Office Mojo.)
Although Brad Pitt was allowed back into China last week, Angelina Jolie refreshed the couple’s difficulties with the Chinese government by implying Taiwan is a sovereign state during a speech on the mainland discussing Taiwan director Ang Lee. Touring the country to promote her new film Maleficent, Jolie’s gaffe highlighted tensions surrounding the official mainland narrative concerning Taiwan, which China doesn’t recognize as an independent country. While her speech was far from political in nature, here is the part that rubbed party members the wrong way:
“I am not sure if you consider Ang Lee Chinese, he’s Taiwanese, but he does many Chinese-language films with many Chinese artists and actors,” Jolie said. “I think his works and the actors in his films are the ones I am most familiar with and very fond of.”
In the wake of his scandal and falling-out with the mainland’s government, director Zhang Yimou has been outspokenly interested in Western productions. In a recent interview, he further expressed his interest in American television like House of Cards and Breaking Bad along with his desire that the Chinese film market will diversify its content.
Another sign of Zhang’s current enthusiasm for Hollywood is the news that he will head a new Hollywood-China co-production in addition to another upcoming Hollywood picture he has committed to (spy thriller The Parzival Mosaic). Titled The Great Wall, the film was initially created by the CEO of Legendary, Thomas Tull, along Max Brooks, the writer of World War Z, and will tell the story of the famous landmark.
Even further indicative of his new position on Western films was the lavish praise he laid on the director of Godzilla, Gareth Edwards, at its premiere in China, saying that Edwards is “really imaginative and he really brings something new to the character.”
A new analysis of the Chinese film market released by Entgroup finds that the majority of the growth in the mainland’s booming film economy has been sustained by the increase in ticket sales of nationally produced films as opposed to the recent wave of Hollywood imports. The stats find that gross sales of China’s homespun films are up 54.3 percent over 2012’s total, while American films only saw an increase of 2.5 percent. Beyond local tastes that find the content of Chinese films like this year’s box office champs The Monkey King and Where Are We Going, Dad? more relatable, the business growth is also in large part due to the efforts of China’s state-run film department. Holding a monopoly over China’s film market, sole distributor China Film Group consistently uses a slew of tactics like pre-selling tickets and exerting control over release dates to make sure that China’s local films find their top share of the box offices.
How will this affect Hollywood’s strategies in the Chinese market? Co-productions will most likely continue, and original, potentially risky concept films might be held back in favor of even more safe bets like big-budget sequels and reboots that have a better chance of doing well in China.