Industry Report: Focus: Asia & Oceania
Hollywood movies control Chinese box office, with six in Top Ten
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
- Hollywood movies dominate the Chinese box office. Last year three titles - US directors Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Jennifer Yuh's Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rob Marshall's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – came in at No 1, 2 and 3 on the Top Ten charts, grossing €271 million. With another three American films, they reached €385 million, against four domestic productions, which took €205 million.
Only two Chinese distribution companies are authorised to import international films – China Film Group and Hua Xia Film Distribution, both state-run – and in 2011 they handled 63 features (adding five from Hong Kong, three from Taiwan). They accounted for 46% of total box office, while local films controlled 54%. Film imports include revenue-sharing films (20, mostly from the US), flat-fee films (38) and special, mostly 3D films (5). The quotas are fixed, but after 2012 the number of revenue-sharing releases will go up to 34.
The statistics are included in the China-Europe Film Promotion Project, launched recently at the Warsaw International Film Festival by festival director – and general manager of the Warsaw Film Foundation – Stefan Laudyn and Et Hu, head of the Film Factory organised by the Beijing Good Film Culture Centre, and a leading networking platform (www.dianyinggongchang.com) for Chinese independent filmmakers and for international cinema in China.
"The Chinese market is very closed and not easy to immediately understand," said Laudyn. "For instance, there are very few art theatres, and no art cinema chains. Audiences for art films are referred to DVDs, the Internet, the China Film Archive and film festivals, of which there are only 10 authorised by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. Main showcases are the Beijing International Film Festival (April), the Shanghai International Film Festival (June), the Changchun Festival (August), the China Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers Film Festival (ambulating, September-October). "This is the reason why we have instigated the China-Europe Film Promotion Project, which is aimed at introducing European quality films to Chinese audiences through getting access to local distribution channels, and from the other end making the works of Chinese independent filmmakers available to international film festivals and distributors. Currently we are setting up a European network, and have so far attached Moscow's Red Square Screenings, the film festivals in Helsinki (Love & Anarchy), Tallinn (Black Nights), Prague (FebioFest), Sofia and Cluj (Transilvania) to the initiative."
Top Chinese production companies are state-run importers/distributors China Film Group and Hua Xia Film, but most of the other leading producers – Huayi Brothers Films, Polybona Films, Wanda Cinemas, Enlight Media, Beijing Galloping Horse Film & TV Production – are also distributors with their own cinema circuits.
Last year, 791 features were produced in China – top domestic performers were Yimou Zhang's The Flowers of War, which was No 4 on the Top Ten charts, grossing €58 million; Sanping Han-Jianxin Huang's Beginning of the Great Revival (No 5, €52 million) and Hark Tsui's Flying Swords of Dragon Gate/3D (No 6, €51 million). Only a small percentage entered international distribution.
Foreign producers interested in co-producing with Chinese partners must go through China Films Co-Production Corporation – the only agent permitted to liaise to local companies – and both the Chinese production company and the film have to be approved by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. At the recent Shanghai Festival, seven international projects were launched at the co-production market.
However, to be considered a co-production, the foreign and the Chinese company must jointly invest in the film and share the copyright, and at least a third of the cast must be Chinese. It can then be released in mainland China after passing censorship, and it qualifies for the Chinese government Huahiao Awards. A foreign production serviced by Chinese partners is still considered foreign, and must be imported by an authorised distributor before launched in China.
China Film Group and Hua Xia Film control 72% of the Chinese market (44% and 28%, respectively), followed by Polybona Films (12%) and Enlight Media, New Pictures, Huayi Brothers Films, Galloping Horse Film & TV Production, Hua Tian Xia Film Distribution, Eastern Mordor, and SMI Film. Still, with no art cinema chains, the number of theatres has radically increased from 1,243 theatres/2,668 screens to an estimated 3,370 theatres/11,800 screens in 2012.
Last year’s turnover for film on television, new media and DVDs reached €77.5 million, €40 million and €2.5 million, respectively. The last official statistics numbered 39 cinema chains with 2,880 theatres and 9,220 screens (8,393 of them digital). Chinese censorship – or the State Administration of Radio Film and Television – insists that ten rules be met before a film is accepted for local release, such as not harming national unity, the state and territorial sovereignty, instigating ethnic hatred and discrimination, publicising evil cults and superstition, disturbing public order and social stability, encouraging obscenity, gambling, violence and instigating crime.