The biggest trend of modern cinema is also the biggest geopolitical trend of modern times: opening China and its markets to the US. This cultural change in China is sparking big business opportunities for US movie makers, but are they actually worth undertaking?
It’s safe to say that the market for American movies is alive and well in China. Oftentimes, American blockbusters make higher profits internationally than they do domestically, and a large chunk of that revenue tends to come from China. Some Hollywood films such as Transformers: Age of Extinction and Furious 7 owe most of their revenue to the Chinese markets.
The courtship between China and the US began small, as is often the case. There were no co-production efforts at first, but in time the Chinese government decided which US films would be imported, passing Chinese censorship laws in the process. As a result, some Hollywood films began pandering to Chinese viewers: removing issues and references to subjects that might be banned there. For instance, Chinese characters and government officials were always portrayed as competent and trustworthy. There were those in the US who had a problem with such an approach.
It’s hard to determine what the first major co-production was, but the first major blockbuster was Transformers: Age of Extinction. The film was produced by Paramount, and movie rights for China were secured through a co-production company called Jialfix Enterprise. It was followed by a large marketing campaign, and did fairly well overall.
The result was profitable. This was due in part to the size of the market, as well as the fact that Chinese audiences had not been exposed to many Western films, and were therefore unfamiliar with clichés and stereotypes that would garner harsher critics in America. This meant that in some cases, even mundane films could do well in China, if not at home.
After the initial success of several smaller films, larger production companies entered into long-term contracts with Chinese companies. The first was made by DreamWorks, creating a company called DreamWorks Oriental for that express purpose. Their first film was Kung Fu Panda 3, which grossed over 500 million worldwide. Productions soon started in the opposite direction as well, with large Chinese companies offering deals to creators such as Steven Spielberg.
Is It Worth It?
There are two ways to approach such a question. Is it worth it financially, and is it worth it creatively? For the first, the answer seems clear: co-productions are a good deal. It’s in regards to the second question that things begin to get complicated. Some feel that restrictions set in place by the Chinese government are too strict, and will limit creativity. Others say it is possible to remain creative and even subversive, despite such limitations.
The US and western companies are now collaborating regularly with the Chinese movie market. This is done through the process of co-production, following censorship guidelines set in place by the Chinese government. The deals are lucrative, but censorship remains a concern for the creatives involved.