Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In this week’s news: reading into China at Cannes, Jia Zhangke announces a new film, and Godzilla’s path to China.
This week saw Hollywood import Spiderman 2 continuing its box office dominance with $25 million more in ticket revenue over the last week, while Zhang Yimou’s historical drama Coming Home landed in second place with a major take of $13 million.
(Box office results courtesy of Box Office Mojo.)
China’s presence at Cannes this year highlighted the mainland film industry’s relationship to international markets. While there were more Chinese nationals than ever at the prestigious festival that wrapped up on Thursday, the amount of deal-making was minimal. “There have been a lot of parties, a lot of black ties and a lot of yachts,” said an unnamed executive regarding Chinese executives at Cannes, but “So far, the answer is lots of glitz but little tangible business, and even less of the international cultural prestige the country’s leaders expressly covet.” says THR.
For many Chinese executives, international film festivals aren’t really a priority next to a market at home that is ready to turn out in numbers to moderately budgeted, domestically produced blockbusters. Chinese films enjoy superior box office figures thanks to the government’s strict regulation of content and release dates. Many Chinese films aren’t geared toward an international audience. Felice Bee, the president of Chinese blockbuster production company Huayi Brothers, told THR at Cannes, “The films that work in China don’t work outside China.”
THR also published an interview with Zhang Zhou, the CEO of LeVision, one of China’s largest production companies and the group behind Zhang Yimou’s recent drama Coming Home. Although Zhang’s film screened at the festival, it wasn’t in the competition. When asked about what he thought about it, Zhou stated,
“It doesn’t make any difference. I don’t think a movie’s quality should be judged on whether you get into the competition or not. I am not worried. The film is already finished. I don’t need Cannes to tell me whether it is good or not.”
One Chinese film that does seem to be going for both a domestic and international audience, however, is Jiang Wen’s Gone With the Bullets, which held a promotional party at Cannes and has received some serious attention. The 3D epic will be set in 1920s Shanghai and is set to involve a glamorous partnership with fashion house Giorgio Armani as costume designers. The film is directed by and will star Jiang Wen, who, when asked about the nature of art and commerce in movies said,
“No matter how lofty a film is, it becomes a product after entering the market. It has a price. I think no matter what your purpose of shooting it, it has to have artistic value and then sell. But you can’t make money if it doesn’t have artistic value.”
As of a few days ago, China’s film industry has reported cumulative box office sales of $1.6 billion since January. This number for the first five months alone matches the country’s gross film revenue for all of 2010. Fifty-six percent of the figure is reportedly from domestically produced films, including the top grossing local film of the year, 2014’s Monkey King. The blockbuster grossed $166 million in ticket sales, while Hollywood import Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes in second with $115 million, and reality show-based phenomenon Where Are We Going, Dad? is right behind in third at just over $111 million.
Hollywood has gone to great lengths for an attempt to propel upcoming CG blockbuster Godzilla to China’s market. In hopes of skyrocketing China profits, the film’s creators took into account tensions between Japan and China by choosing to have the monster born in the Philippines instead of Japan and making his first target a Japanese nuclear plant.
Director and Cannes jury member Jia Zhangke has announced his next project, Mountains May Depart, which will be backed by his previous production team from his violence opera Touch of Sin. Marking his first time shooting outside of China, the film will feature scenes set in 1990s China along with portions in Australia that are set a decade into the future. On his motivation for the film, Jia said,
“I want to examine how Chinese society is changing, how our emotions change over time and how in the future we may have lost our feelings”