From Hollywood, with expertise

Updated: 2012-04-23 07:38

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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Work experience with a major US studio can serve as a stepping-stone to opportunities in China's booming film industry, reports Raymond Zhou.

Hollywood movies attract a huge amount of attention in China, but those Chinese who have worked inside the US system and are now setting up shop as part of the country's film industry have largely been flying under the radar.

From Hollywood, with expertise

Movie producer David U Lee (center, standing) on the set of Inseparable, a black comedy starring two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (left, seated) and Chinese star Daniel Wu (right). Photos Provided to China Daily

Take Ben Ji as an example. For much of the 1990s, he represented Disney in marketing and distribution to the Chinese market. The Rock, which starred Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery, made a huge splash in China after Ji successfully pitched the project to the distributor, China Film Group. "The fast tempo was refreshing to Chinese audiences," he recalled.

However, Ji revealed that many features in the drama genre have difficulty drawing a sizable audience because of differences in cultural background, social ethics and other factors. The international politics involved in Enemy of the State, another Disney release, might have been off-putting for Chinese moviegoers, according to Ji. "This type of story may do better now, given the growing knowledge about the outside world."

After attending the University of Southern California and working for Warner Bros Pictures International, Ji relocated to China and produced three feature films starring some of the country's biggest cinematic names, such as Ge You, Joan Chen, Liu Ye and Yao Chen. The magical pairing of Wen Zhang and Bai Baihe in last year's sleeper hit Love Is Not Blind started as one of a quartet of urban romances in the Ji production The Law of Attraction.

But Ji is not alone in forsaking a Hollywood career in pursuit of greener pastures in the Middle Kingdom. Many others in the sector who did not grow up in China have come to establish themselves in the country's burgeoning film industry that in 2010 reached the milestone of 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in box office revenue and has an annual growth rate of 30 percent.

By Ji's estimate, some 100 returnees are involved in both the creative and management areas of the Chinese film business, each with the advantage of firsthand expertise in what is arguably the world's most advanced cinematic industry. They are plowing what they learned in Hollywood back into the land of new adventures.

From Hollywood, with expertise

Ben Ji (left) on the set of Color Me Love with Yao Chen (at the back) and Zhu Hong (in yellow).

Those who trained in the US and have since moved to China "will make a big difference to China's film industry", said Stanley Rosen, director of the East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and they will remedy some of the weaknesses, the biggest of which is "the lack of good producers".

"In addition, the returnees will be presented with opportunities not previously available, because of recent deals with such companies as Disney and DreamWorks," according to Rosen. They "will play a bridging role, particularly in areas such as storytelling, marketing and distribution".

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