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“The Chinese film industry is concentrating intensely on European content now”

Industry Report: Europe and the Rest of the World

Cai Gongming • Producer and distributor, Road Pictures


Road Pictures’ Cai Gongming chatted to us about the Chinese film market at the latest Bridging the Dragon event, which unspooled from 11-14 November in Beijing

Cai Gongming  • Producer and distributor, Road Pictures

At the fourth Sino-European Project Lab, hosted by the Bridging the Dragon producers’ association in Beijing from 11-14 November, we caught up with Cai Gongming, of Chinese entertainment group Road Pictures, which released the Cannes Film Festival winner Shoplifters in China, where it grossed $13 million at the box office.

What are the latest trends in the Chinese film industry in relation to European productions?
Cai Gongming: I think there are two main trends. First, there are a lot of quality European movies, or so-called arthouse films, that now have a greater chance of being successful in China. This is because the Chinese audience is getting more sophisticated. People, especially those in bigger cities, are bored of only seeing Hollywood blockbusters that lack a more profound meaning. Secondly, recently a lot of effort has been put into the film business on the government’s side. China’s nationwide Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas established a circuit of screens dedicated to independent films. These institutional efforts are definitely helping to bring independent foreign films to a broader Chinese audience.

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Why do you think the Chinese audience is becoming more sophisticated?
It’s because they are receiving more input from different online platforms and sources, so they have access to all of the international content, not only American content. The more types of films they discover, the more bored they become having only one kind of story. So the interest in high-quality products increases. The success of award winners from festivals like Cannes and so on proves that as well. 

Is the incredible Chinese success of Shoplifters still surprising for you? 
I kind of expected it to be successful, but I was still a bit surprised by how many admissions it took. However, we have also put a lot of effort into the marketing of this film. Generally speaking, I think this kind of movie has huge potential in China, and people are becoming more interested in it. With bigger marketing budgets, you can reach a lot of people. At the moment, many Chinese distributors are selling their content mainly to digital platforms, so sales companies should always remember to look for a good distribution partner that’s really interested in a theatrical release. This is the advice I would give to European producers: to give more serious consideration to whom they sell their films to.

Why is it important to have a space like this Project Lab for European and Chinese producers to meet?
There are more and more meetings for European and Chinese professionals thanks to initiatives like Bridging the Dragon,and you can see that the discussions do not only scratch the surface, but go deeper into specific business opportunities. Over the years, I have got the impression that the projects have been getting better, and that we understand each other more and more. It is not only the co-production aspect that is important, but also a wider range of forms of collaboration that we have to consider. This year’s edition, with the participation of Oscar-winning director Stefan Ruzowitzky, big production houses like Fandango and sales experts like Milada Kolberg, shows that this lab is becoming a real, full-scale business meeting. This is a positive development that is also responding to the new changes in the Chinese market. 

What are the future prospects for collaboration looking like between the two markets?
As mentioned before, I think the collaboration is finally approaching a higher level, and co-productions are only one aspect of this. More acquisitions, co-development of projects, the new Bridging the Dragon programme called “Professional Talents”, which introduces and promotes below-the-line European talents to the Chinese market... All of these are opportunities for a further intertwining of the two markets. Europe should follow the examples of China’s collaboration with Japan on artwork designers, or with Korea on post-production resources. Chinese professionals also need technology and artwork from Europe. Due to the new trend of quality films in China, European knowledge and experience now have more value for Chinese professionals.

Do you think that the restrictions on foreign films entering the Chinese market will change?
Some people say that the quota may be completely done away with in the future, but some people say the exact opposite. There are as many rumours about the quota state policy as there are surprises. Generally speaking, recent developments show that there have to be more – and more different – movies owing to a changing audience. And it is easier to import European films into the Chinese market, rather than American movies, since there are still not that many. The important questions to consider are whether the films are suitable for the Chinese audience, and whether they will pass the censorship: sometimes they are too arthouse and too European-focused. But most of them are still very appealing. That’s why the Chinese film industry is concentrating intensely on European content now.

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