Industry Report: Focus: Asia & Oceania
Major development of Chinese film industry infrastructure
- Following the state-backed expansion of China's TV and newspaper industries since 2009, the government is promoting a major push of film production and distribution.
The state council, China's cabinet, has issued new guidelines for the booming industry that have helped film-makers secure bank loans and reach a wider audience.
Qiang Zhongyuan, a director with Beijing Forbidden City Film Company, says the measures have helped him to double his budget this year, which means more films and higher quality work.
"In the past we normally invested 4m-5m yuan on one movie, but now we can go for big productions costing 30m or sometimes even over 100m."
Despite the widespread piracy of films – which means illegal DVDs often go on sale within days of a new cinema release – the authorities are ramping up cinema construction to draw more audiences to screenings.
"So far this year, we have already matched the number of total theatres built last year, but we still have yet to meet the increasing demand," Zhao Shi, deputy director of the state administration of radio, film and television, said at a recent press conference.
Industry analysts says the speed of growth – a reflection of a wider economic boom as much as state policy – is so fast that China could start to overtake the US in key benchmarks.
"I am forecasting the day when China will catch up with the US in box office takings. It may happen in my lifetime, faster than we expect because of the appreciation of the yuan against the dollar," wrote Raymond Zhou, the author of a book on the economics of Hollywood, in a recent Xinhua news agency article.
He notes that, since 2004, US box office earnings have increased by just 6%, while China's have surged fourfold. "Under these circumstances, it is not inconceivable that China may buy up a Hollywood studio in the not-so-distant future," he wrote.
Such talk is reminiscent of Japan's economic heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Sony snapped up Columbia studios.
Although that purchase shook many in the American film industry, it did not herald a transformation of Hollywood, nor did it prove a game-changing projection of Japanese cultural power.
China's ambitions, however, are more strategic. Last year the government reportedly injected £4bn into Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV, and the People's Daily newspaper in a move to strengthen the country's media voice. All of these organisations have subsequently ramped up their English language content in a bid to counter what is widely seen in Beijing as a biased western media and an overly strong advocacy of western values.
Xiang Yong, deputy director of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Beijing University, sees the promotion of the domestic film industry in the same light.
"There's a saying that Hollywood is the real foreign ministry of the US, which shows the importance of the movie industry," Xiang said.
"From a cultural perspective, the promotion of the movie industry is an important way to strengthen the soft power of our country."