Hollywood celebrities crossing the Pacific

Updated: 2011-01-19 07:56

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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 Hollywood celebrities crossing the Pacific
Hollywood actor Will Smith (left) and family attend a promotion event for The Karate Kid, a kungfu movie starring Chinese actor Jackie Chan (right) and Will's son Jaden Smith (center), in June 2010 in Beijing. Du Lianyi / China Daily

BEIJING - Hollywood A-listers are pouring into China, the fastest-growing film market in the world.

At the beginning of 2010, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey arrived in Guangzhou to appear in the black comedy Inseparable and was described as the highest-profile Hollywood star to make a film in China.

Then, Hugh Jackman touched down in Shanghai in March, tackling Mandarin in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a film that follows two women's life-long friendship in China in the 19th century.

Will Smith accompanied his son Jaden Smith to Beijing and Shanghai in June to promote The Karate Kid, a co-production between China Film Group and Sony Pictures, set against scenic locations such as the Great Wall.

John Cusack followed, holding hands with Gong Li on the red carpet to promote the spy thriller Shanghai, in which they were lovers.

Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) wrapped up her part in Empires of the Deep on a sound stage in north Beijing, while the US-China co-production of the 3D blockbuster features many elements from Chinese mythology.

"No other film market is growing so quickly as China," industry insider Tan Fei said. "No one can ignore it."

China's box office revenues hit a record 10.2 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in 2010, a 64-percent increase over the previous year, while gross box office receipts have seen an average annual growth of 35 percent since 2003. About 4.2 new screens were built every day in 2010 in China.

"A decade ago any Hollywood star would have created a huge stir if he or she landed in China," Tan said. "But now people aren't surprised when Zhang Yimou announces he has cast Christian Bale in his new war epic Nanking Heroes (working title)."

Most Hollywood stars come for China-US co-produced films.

The reason for this is the country imports just 20 foreign films for theatrical release every year. But co-productions enjoy the same status as domestic films, so this is the most efficient way for Hollywood filmmakers to be part of the Chinese movie industry.

"China is shifting from being a provider of oriental symbols, an economical location and labor source, to being a real respected partner," Tan said.

The conventional business model for a China-US co-production used to be: Hollywood offers the money and China provides the location and labor, thereby lowering the costs.

But the new trend is for Chinese companies to provide the investment. For example, in Cusack's Shanghai, Beijing-based Huayi Brothers covered part of the $50-million budget.

Zhang Yimou has gone even further and is making a totally Chinese-financed film that has a Hollywood connection in Christian Bale.

Even so, Tan said Hollywood stars and hot money do not mean it is time to celebrate China's movie industry.

"We are still weak when it comes to creativity and good scripts," Tan said. "Technology, of course, is something else we urgently need to know more about."

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