China’s film industry has come a long way in the last 10 years, but it takes a long time to cultivate an ecosystem. That was the consensus in a panel on the resurgence of China’s film and media industry at the 2015 USC Global Conference in Shanghai.
“China is a very young market. The movie ecosystem is not as well established,” said Jerry Ye, vice president of Wanda Culture Industry Group, during the discussion. “After you graduate, how do you learn lessons and become successful in the field? We are in the beginning stage; there is still a long way to go.”
While box office metrics show dramatic growth and tremendous opportunity for the film industry in China, the infrastructure is still in its very nascent stages. Knowledge and appreciation of the history of the medium – and essential films – and the development of mentoring networks to bring the next generation along are still emerging in China.
“Many Chinese students’ experience with film starts with ‘Titanic’ in 1999,” said Rick Dunham, a visiting professor of U.S. media culture at Tsinghua University. “They have no knowledge of history and don’t know classics like ‘Gone with the Wind’ or ‘Wizard of Oz,’ but there is a hunger to learn.”
One key learning that is gaining traction in both the U.S. and China is the need to develop local language content. Western movies transplanted in China include so many cultural references that are unfamiliar to Chinese audiences.
“Cultural references in film are essential to an audience,” said Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “Movies that do well have references that run deep and resonate. China has 4,000 years of wonderful culture and traditional stories that can be used.“Ang Lee takes iconography that is local – very much of Chinese origin – but he makes a global movie because his references run deep and resonate across cultures,” added Daley.
This increased focus on local language content is generating more collaborative agreements, as demonstrated by a production and distribution partnership between U.S.-based The Weinstein Company and Chinese-based Wanda.
“It’s all about the script,” said David Hutkin, executive vice president of The Weinstein Company. “We do strong stories with strong characters, and especially strong women characters. It’s about storylines that create deep emotional ties – people overcoming the odds, good over evil.”
This first movie included in the partnership is “Southpaw,” a U.S-based film about overcoming the odds. For the second movie, the partners will start from inside China and look for local language content that holds true to The Weinstein Company’s storytelling tradition.
The testament to the continued growth of the Chinese movie industry will be as Western franchise movies and blockbusters start to give way to strong stories that originate locally and resonate with familiar cultural references.
“People like films that represent their lives,” said Daley in closing.