Golden Horse Zhang ZiyiJia ZhangkeZhang Yimou"Conspirators"Bona

Co-productions is Like Arranged Marriage

2013-05-03 08:56:19        China Daily

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.

As David Lee puts it, the process of co-producing a movie is to remove its edginess, leaving a work so devoid of oomph that the audience, especially those in China, would never get excited about.

"The story in a co-produced film is bound to be weak. The executives of a studio love the concept, but audience members do not give a damn that it's a co-production or not," he says.

As comedies, the above movies are extremely sensitive to cultural nuances. A gag in one culture may simply look stupid in another. And anything that is not physical comedy may get lost in translation. As a matter of fact, comedic sensibility is like local anesthesia. It varies from place to place, even within one country.

When producer Bill Kong suggested to Xue Xiaolu, writer-director of Finding Mr. Right, that the latter do a romantic comedy in the spirit of Sleepless in Seattle, she responded to her Hong Kong boss that kind of love story would look ridiculously naive in an age of cynicism, which the mainland is obviously in right now. So, she opted for a love story much less pure but realistic enough to click with the mainland audience.

A typical Hollywood franchise film does not need Chinese elements to conquer the Chinese market. A Chinese element often feels like an awkward bow of condescension. And a Chinese movie had better serve the domestic market first. If a genius like Ang Lee cannot design a movie to straddle East and West (he did it by artistic integrity, not commercial calculation), you'd better just leave it to chance.

Maybe the unity of artistic vision will be so convincing that the story ends up gaining a mass appeal in another culture. But as it stands, co-production is not a way out. It is more a cul de sac.

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