Arranged marriage

Updated: 2013-05-03 01:53

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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Arranged marriage

The Forbidden Kingdom features two kung fu masters, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, but fails to set sparks flying as anticipated. Provided to China Daily

These are the biggest hits, albeit lopsided. The others are downright abysmal, so much so that many can be case studies for what to avoid in movie making.

Jade Warrior (2006), a Sino-Finnish co-production, features Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu's least memorable performance of her career, and it was not her fault. Shanghai, with a stellar cast of top names from China, Japan and the US, brought in 46 million yuan at China's box office and only $10 million globally, not enough to even pay the stars. It was never released in the US.

However, even with the greatest fiascos, the Western press reports with hushed excitement, citing isolated figures such as the number of screens in China that opened the movies. Nobody cares to ask if the investors have made their money back, or why they are never again involved in film making, or why they are in bankruptcy court, for that matter.

And of course, they would not deign to find out more about a Chinese phenomenon called "one-day tour" — meaning a movie makes a symbolic theatrical release and departs from the theater before the weekend is over.

China is such a shining beacon that anything in its glow would make a ton of money, or they believe so.

In a sense, this is the flip side of the myth that Chinese harbored decades ago that the US had gold-paved streets and all you needed to do was bend down and pick up the gold. Even busboys working in Chinatown restaurants were touted as millionaires when their stories traveled back to Chinese villages.

Co-productions can enable higher budgets, but it is highly questionable whether they will make better movies.

The two sets of administrative expenses mean the duplication of spending, which has nothing to do with the quality of a movie. The misuse of cultural references, almost unavoidable, can only be offensive. The token gesture of casting cameo roles for Chinese actors, for example, has so far aroused more contempt than good will.

As David Lee, a Chinese-American producer involved in several high-profile co-productions, explains, Hollywood attempts at co-production status would not have been controversial in China had the roles not been given to Chinese actors. And they did not get the co-production status anyway.

The pitfall of co-productions looms even more ominously, when examined from the perspective of those that could have got that status.

Lost in Thailand and Finding Mr. Right were the biggest runaway hits in late 2012 and early 2013. The majority of the storylines take place in foreign countries, Thailand and the US respectively. Yet, these are pure Chinese productions, with no creative input from Thai or US filmmakers. Had they been co-productions, they might not have taken off as spectacularly, or even fallen flat.