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Chinese Movies Have a Long Way to Go to Attract Audiences Overseas

2012-06-15 13:49:21        Chinese Films
"Chinese movie stars and producers cannot just walk the red carpet at foreign film festivals. That cannot make Chinese movies more popular abroad," Huang Huilin, a professor at Beijing Normal University's College of Arts and Communication and director of the university's Institute for International Communication of Chinese Culture, said with undisguised anxiety, adding that Chinese movies are facing an extremely tough situation in attracting foreign audiences.

When China's box-office revenue grows year by year, few people have noticed that the foreign box-office receipts for Chinese movies amounted to slightly over 2 billion yuan in 2011, down nearly 43 percent from the figure in 2010 and almost the same as five years ago. A research team led by Huang pointed out this phenomenon in their newly published Silver Paper: Report on International Spread of Chinese Movies 2011, sending a wake-up call to the seemingly booming Chinese movie industry.

The team, consisting of researchers from the Institute for International Communication of Chinese Culture, compiled the report by surveying 1,400 foreigners speaking 18 languages in nine countries of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, and South Korea and analyzing their access to, preferences in, and cultural understanding of Chinese movies.

The survey found that Chinese movies are rarely seen in foreign cinemas, and only a limited number of Chinese movies have been shown commercially overseas. If revenue from the sale of DVDs and other tie-ins was deducted from the over 2 trillion yuan of box-office receipts, Chinese movies actually only grossed over 1 billion yuan overseas last year. More than 55 percent of foreign respondents watch Chinese movies on tapes or DVDs, and only over 32 percent would like to watch Chinese movies in cinema.

As "Made in China" products are becoming increasingly popular worldwide, Chinese movies have emerged as a weak link in the foreign trade of China, the world's largest exporter.

In sharp contrast to Chinese movies' poor performance in foreign markets, Hollywood blockbusters have grossed tons of money in the Chinese market. In 2010, total box-office receipts in the United States reached 10.6 billion U.S. dollars, almost all contributed by U.S. movies, while China's box-office receipts only reached 1.5 billion U.S. dollars, 44 percent of which were from U.S. movies. Last year, 17 foreign movies each took in more than 100 million yuan in China, and Hollywood movies grossed a total of more than 3.8 billion yuan in the country, accounting for over 29 percent of China's total box-office revenue. Titanic 3D alone easily grossed more than 1 billion yuan in the Chinese mainland in the first half of the year. China is on track to overtake Japan as the largest overseas market for Hollywood.

Several major film festivals in Europe, which Chinese movie producers have frequently attended, cannot boost the confidence of the Chinese movie industry either. Many Chinese producers find it "increasingly difficult to sell their movies." Take the Berlin International Film Festival for example. In addition to a few high-investment movies such as The Flowers of War and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D, few people showed any interest in the Chinese movies at the festival. Only seven Chinese movies were shown at the Cannes International Film Festival this year, of which, only two movies, namely Chinese Zodiac and Painted Skin: The Resurrection, are set to be shown commercially in certain European and Asian countries thanks to their producers' overseas connections. Certain Chinese movie producers who attended the Cannes film festival said that Chinese movies are not as popular in foreign countries as they appear, and the overseas markets for Chinese movies are shrinking.

"Trade deficit" is a glaring phrase in the Silver Book. After China joined the WTO, China's trade deficit of movie box office appeared in 2010. In that year, China's income from exporting movies was surpassed by China's expenditure on importing movies, indicating that China's domestic demand for imported movies exceeded China's movie export. In 2011, the trade deficit was expanded to a little more than 4 billion yuan, of which, the severest deficit is the movie trade deficit with the United States.

According to a statistics in the Silver Book, more than one third of foreign audiences "almost know nothing about the Chinese movie, 32.3 percent of English audiences "have never watched a Chinese movie," and only 25.9 percent of foreign audiences choose the Chinese movie as the main channel for learning about the Chinese culture. One thing that has worried a lot of Chinese movie makers is that, most foreign interviewees' expression on the Chinese movie is still the "Kung Fu movie," and expect for Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou, Chinese actors and movie directors are not known and accepted much in foreign countries.

The "Kung Fu movie" is only a small part of the Chinese movie, but in overseas audiences' opinion, it represents China. Huang said that the fact that the "Kung Fu movie" has been popular in foreign countries for a long period actually reflects the transmission weakness of the Chinese movie in the world. To a great extent, the Chinese movie has a weak sense of international transmission, does not invest enough into its international transmission, and lacks a sophisticated overseas marketing network.

Regarding the "Going Global" of the Chinese movie, 295 Chinese movies participated in 82 movie festivals of 28 countries and regions in 2011, and 55 of them won 82 awards of 18 movie festivals. Although the number of the awards is large, the awards' practical effect is limited.

In Huang's opinion, China has turned into the second largest economy of the world, but the Chinese movie occupies only 4 percent of the global cultural market, making China face an asymmetric predicament between the economic miracle and cultural leanness. In order to get China out of this predicament, China's movie artists must absorb nutrition from the Chinese culture on the one hand, and strengthen the cross-regional cooperation in such areas as the movie packaging, publication and marketing on the other hand.

In this survey, a surprising thing is that most foreign audiences chose "having no chance" to be the reason for they have never watched a Chinese movie. Of the interviewees, 63.7 percent believe that the Chinese movie needs to improve its "publication and issuance." Secondly, they also believe that the Chinese movie needs to improve its "story telling style."

In recent years, although foreigners could watch Chinese movies through such channels as the Internet, foreign audiences are still unfamiliar with Chinese movies due to their weak publication and issuance. In order make Chinese movies occupy overseas markets, maybe China needs to have its own global movie issuance network.

Currently, the most important thing is of course still the quality of the Chinese movie. Some scholars believe that the decline trend of the quality of the Chinese movie was similar to the decline trend of China's movie export in recent years. The special characters of Chinese movies are becoming weaker, and a lot of low-quality imitative movies made in China are filled in the market. One must be able to hold the ground before expanding the territory. If the Chinese movie wants to realize the goal of "Going Global," maybe the most important thing it should do now is to strengthen its internal power.

Source:People's Daily Online

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