Hollywood has become so entangled with China that the movie industry can’t run without itwrites Erich Schwartzel in the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese investors and more than a billion potential moviegoers have made China indispensable to the film business. The country’s box-office total last year, at $6.6 billion, was the world’s second-largest compared with the first-place U.S., $11.4 billion. In a few years, analysts predict, China will be No. 1.
While the U.S. movie-ticket sales have remained relatively flat, China’s have more than tripled since 2011.
… Private and state-backed Chinese companies have invested tens of billions of dollars in U.S. film ventures over the past decade. The relationship comes with strings attached. Chinese authorities, censors and consumers influence nearly every aspect of American moviemaking in China, from scripts to casting to greenlighting sequels.
… “We’re in a moment of significant disruption,” said Richard Lovett, president of Creative Artists Agency, which represents such clients as Sandra Bullock and J.J. Abrams. The firm announced Monday it was expanding its footprint in the country with a division called CAA China.
China’s ambition befits the big screen—to compete with the U.S. as a global storyteller and spread its perspective in the same fashion American filmmakers have for a century.
… Chinese investors bring the support of a Communist Party that under China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, has made cultural influence an important piece of its long-term growth plans.
“We must make patriotism into the main melody of literature and art creation, guide the people to establish and uphold correct views of history, views of the nation, views of the country and views of culture, and strengthen their fortitude and resolve to be Chinese,” said Mr. Xi at the Beijing Forum on Literature and Art in October 2014.
Tensions between China and the White House have accelerated since the presidential election. Mr. Xi is seeking to strike a contrast with President Donald Trump as a champion of globalism, and he appears eager to advance China’s narrative—both by pressuring Hollywood studios to portray the nation favorably and, in the long term, by adopting Western filmmaking techniques for China’s own movie industry.
… That desire got a push from a Hollywood panda named Po. The animated star of “Kung Fu Panda” was created by DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the Glendale, Calif., studio then run by Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Mr. Katzenberg didn’t cook up “Panda” to win over Chinese audiences. He and the DreamWorks team conceived of the movie in 2004, when China sales were barely an afterthought. At its 2008 release, China’s market was small but growing.
Yet “Kung Fu Panda” was a hit in China, grossing $26 million, a surprise to everyone. Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee—a top political advisory body—debated how a U.S. company could understand Chinese culture well enough to make the movie.
… Hollywood executives can rattle off the rules for getting a movie approved by Chinese censors: no sex (too unseemly); no ghosts (too spiritual). Among 10 prohibited plot elements are “disrupts the social order” and “jeopardizes social morality.” Time travel is frowned upon because of its premise that individuals can change history.
… No company has been more aggressive in pursuing Hollywood partnerships than Wanda, a conglomerate run by Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, that made its name building shopping malls across China in the 1990s.
In 2012, Wanda bought AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., a Leawood, Kan., exhibitor that is now the largest movie-theater operator in the world. The company’s other entertainment holdings include Legendary Entertainment, the production company behind “Kong: Skull Island.” It recently built Wanda Studios in the coastal city of Qingdao, which houses 50 soundstages, the largest stretching to more than 100,000 square feet.
Check out the ending of Ridley Scott's “The Martian”, to see how a Chinese rocket is instrumental in saving the life of (again) astronaut Matt Damon. Or check out the ending of Roland Emmerich's “2012”, where the first nations to show compassion and allow thousands of commoners on the Arks — built in China, natch — prove to be China, Russia, and Japan; quickly followed — to the American commander-in-chief's dismay — by a handful of nations from Europe…
• Hollywood's Offerings Promise Only to Get More Anti-American
• In an effort to placate China's cultural sensitivities, Hollywood is willing to make all manner of changes to their films
• Hollywood alters film content to satisfy the communist gatekeepers in Beijing
• Is Kung Fu Panda 2 "a Metaphor for the China-US Struggle"?
• Further Inroads into Hollywood for China's Communist Party and Its Censors
• Chinese Film Studios Are the Planet's Largest, Mass-Producing Films Designed to Build a Positive Image of the Country
In a separate Wall Street Journal article five months earlier, Erich Schwartzel wrote that
Once a blip on studios’ radar, the Chinese box office grew nearly sixty-fold from 2003 to 2015, when its revenue passed $7 billion, and is expected to become the biggest in the world in 2019.
But those sweetened terms come at a cost, beginning with rules that can feel like creative straitjackets and on-set safety requirements that can be looser than in the U.S.
… Filming [the $150 million historical fantasy “The Great Wall”] in China posed inherent problems, like Beijing’s infamous pollution. “How do I look Matt Damon in the face when he’s the only one not wearing a mask?” one producer asked in a meeting.
Clearer skies and more space were found when the crew started filming in Qingdao, a coastal city 400 miles southeast of the capital where Wanda is constructing a sprawling real-estate development known as Wanda Studios Qingdao. Wanda bought Legendary for $3.5 billion in early 2016.