Checking in on the Chinese Film Industry
Wed, April 14, 2021

Checking in on the Chinese Film Industry

The Chinese film industry is the fastest-growing film industry in the world but as it grows, it endures ever tighter scrutiny, tiptoes around censorship, and finds various reasons to rebuff Western influence / Photo by: Huandy618 via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Chinese film industry is the fastest-growing film industry in the world but as it grows, it endures ever tighter scrutiny, tiptoes around censorship, and finds various reasons to rebuff Western influence. With China having the strength to ward off Hollywood movies in their movie rosters, it means that their market is growing big and fast enough that revenue can easily supplement a theoretical situation in which Western movies may be taken out of theaters. 

To really get a closer look at the situation, let’s look at the ups and downs of the industry and its growth in the past couple of years. 

Exponential Growth 

If there’s something to be said about the Chinese film industry, it’s that its exponential growth is very noticeable. In a report by entertainment news Variety, the Chinese market is doing well enough that its growth and revenue “rose 5.4% to a new record of $9.2 billion in 2019 -- albeit at a slower rate of growth than its 9% rise last year.” 

From a global perspective, China has not tied with the United States’ consistent production of movies, still only accounting for 20.2% of all contents sold, versus the 67.6% from the US, this according to the Nikkei Asian Review. Although compared to other film markets, the fact that China was even able to match-up with the US even at a small scale means that the Chinese film industry has so much more to give, has so much more potential. 

While the US dominates the general content, Chinese films were having quite a run in their box office performances. Variety states that Chinese films in 2019 actually accounted for 64% of the total box office, bringing home about $5.9 million in ticket sales. In 2018, they did good, too, garnering 68% of the box office, which also grew from 2017’s 53.8%. 

The Communist Party mouthpiece, People’s Daily released data at the end of 2019 that “China has now 69,787 cinema screens, up 9,708 from 2018.” The People’s Daily report also stated that there have been 1.7 billion tickets sold in total and that it was indicative of the “golden age” of the Chinese film industry. 

Censorship Woes

There are still some things that will get you in hot water when it comes to movie production. Of course, the fact that the Chinese film industry is getting due recognition is already enough for the Chinese government to keep a close eye on what kind of movies the country puts out. 

One prominent example of this fear of censorship and government disapproval happened recently when it was revealed in “GG Bond: Lollipop in Fantasy” that the villain, a panda bear, was not actually a panda. According to Nikkei Asian Review, a website offering Asian news and analysis to the global audience, what the studio did was alter the villain panda character completely by having them say “This is smoky eye! I’m a polar bear!” as they took off their make-up. The panda is a symbol of China, and the studio added the line in order to not offend the government with a villain panda.

These are just one of the things that Chinese filmmakers have to keep on doing as long as the Chinese government is focused on making sure nothing is out of line. 

So how would Hollywood be expected to go about entering the Chinese market, aside from through their heavyweight Marvel movies? According to market research and management consulting firm Dauxe Consulting, the best way to work around the censorship is through co-productions. Through co-productions, foreign producers have a better shot at making movies that are, to a certain extent, tailored to Chinese audiences, as this also makes a great difference. 

There are still some things that will get you in hot water when it comes to movie production. Of course, the fact that the Chinese film industry is getting due recognition is already enough for the Chinese government to keep a close eye on what kind of movies the country puts out / Photo by: N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons

 

“There are strict policies which regulate whether a movie will be recognized by Chinese regulators as a co-production. For this reason, negotiating the sharing of the movie’s box-office earning in China is always a challenge,” the report read. 

In some cases, it works, though. Take a look at “Kung Fu Panda,” and even though it did not help the China-Hong Kong political divide, there’s no denying that “Mulan” was still catered to the Chinese audience. Although for Asian Review, vice president of category management at Warner Bros., Douglas Montgomery, is saying the same thing only from the other side. He’s convinced that China should also cater to the Western audiences to fish a bigger market share. 

Montgomery cites that this worked well when “The Meg” came out, which was inherently more Western in its plotline than “The Great Wall” was, which leaned more into Chinese culture. “The Meg” grossed $530 million globally and “The Great Wall” only finished its box office outing with less than its $150 million production cost.

In general, Western filmmakers and producers feel as though the costs outweigh the benefits, and China feels like they won’t need Hollywood movies if it really comes down to it. In the meantime, many Chinese studios have found their own temporary workaround for the tighter and tighter restrictions: animation.