Road to redemption for Chinese cinema

Updated: 2012-06-29 10:08

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Road to redemption for Chinese cinema

Chinese filmmakers face increasing challenges in the domestic market. Shen Jingwei / For China Daily

Will 2012 be the year of doom for Chinese filmmakers?

At the forum Road to Redemption of Chinese-language Films during the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival, some of China's best known directors talked about their confrontations with Hollywood blockbusters.

One of the panelists cried, one dozed and another shouted. But all six shared a common understanding: It has been a tough year for the domestic film industry.

Although China imports only 20 foreign films on a revenue-sharing basis and about 30 flat-fee flicks, these titles have accounted for nearly half of the box office since 2005.

Disney's The Avengers, screened on May 5, grossed 640 million yuan ($100.54 million). In the same month, domestic productions made only 150 million yuan.

The 3D Titanic has raked in 900 million yuan since April 10 - five times the total gross of local films in the month.

A deal hammered out during Vice-President Xi Jinping's visit to the United States in February has deepened local filmmakers' anxiety. The treaty increases the number of foreign films (on a revenue-sharing basis) in Chinese theaters from 20 to 34 a year. Their cut from ticket sales rises to 25 percent - a decent increase over the original 13 percent.

Director Lu Chuan, 41, had a lump in his throat when talking about his latest movie, The Last Supper.

The costume drama about political conspiracies 2,200 years ago was set for July 5 but has been postponed for some "special reason that is not commercial", according to producer Qin Hong. The release date is not available yet.

Lu calls for equality between local and foreign films when it comes to content censorship.

"I never thought competing with Hollywood is a bad thing. It urges us to grow up," he says. "But could we compete under the same standard? In Hollywood films, Washington could be flooded and Los Angeles blown up, but to damage any signature building in Chinese cities is almost impossible in domestic films."

Art house director Zhang Yuan, best known for his early works that audaciously discussed such issues as homosexuality and independent artists, was the one who fell asleep.

Zhang, who advocates following one's own road, is in the minority of directors, who want more audience recognition - such as Wang Xiaoshuai, whose roar woke him up.

Wang's last work, 11 Flowers, an emotional drama about a boy's first encounter with sex and violence, earned just 3 million yuan at the box office, as it was shown at the same time as The Avengers and was later pulled.

"Don't assume audiences will not like these kind of films," he says. "They have to get the chance to see them."

As a Sino-French co-production, the film was treated as a French film in the country, where the government has clear criteria for art films, such as "innovation of cinematic art", "exploration of original issues" and "classic pictures worth re-screening".

About 2,000 screens are reserved for these films. The government provides various funds and policies to support art film theaters.

But the Chinese government is making efforts to show some support, too.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and TV, the top regulator of the industries in China, is considering returning 5 percent of box office revenue to theaters that show more domestic films.

The project is still in the planning stage but has won over filmmakers.

Qin, the producer of Last Supper, cannot wait to see the details.

"The total box office revenue this year is expected to reach 1.8 billion yuan, so the tax would be 900 million yuan, which is a decent amount of money and will greatly encourage theaters to screen more local films."

Wuershan, whose Painted Skin 2 hit theaters on Thursday, holds an optimistic view.

"We are born with a big advantage, which is our bond with the audience," he says.

"They are our families, relatives and friends. We know them better. Facing a strong enemy, at least we can start from respecting the audience and reducing as many flaws in our films as possible."