The weeklong second Beijing International Film Festival closed Saturday night at the Beijing Olympic Park, with a concert featuring memorable classic film music. [Photo: China.org.cn]
"Through the years of cooperation, all the foreign companies came to us, with their only interest being how much revenue the Chinese market could hold for them," complained Wang Zhongjun, founder and chairman of Huayi Brothers, "When I asked how much revenue they can bring in for us from overseas market, they just couldn't answer."
Although the Chinese domestic film market is poised to become the second largest in the world, the film executive was still worried. "Yes, nowadays we can get a US$100 million box office gross for just one movie in China. But the best box office performance for Chinese films in the United States has been a mere US$480,000, and that was last year. How pathetic!"
Last year, China exported 55 films to be screened across 22 countries and regions, grossing 2.05 billion yuan (US$325 million) at box offices. However, that figure was lower than that of 2010. In 2011, only 16 films of foreign origin screened in North America were Chinese. Chinese films made less than a combined US$3.5 million. In comparison, India has had more than 30 films screened in the U.S. in 2011, making US$20 million in box office revenues.
Since the themes of the festival this year are those of "co-production" and "3D technology," several high-profile international joint projects were announced during the film festival to repackage and present Chinese traditional stories to the Chinese audience and that of the world, including "Transformers" producer Tom DeSanto's "Gods" trilogy, and James Cameron technology supported "The Art of War." Disney's "Iron Man 3," the first high-profile joint production between China and Hollywood filmmakers, will attempt to recruit Hong Kong megastar Andy Lau to add to Chinese involvement in the film.
It is too early to say whether the "Gods" trilogy will be a new "Lord of the Rings", but China's Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to Los Angeles has already brought good news to Hollywood that China has enlarged its quota for revenue sharing imports of foreign films from 20 per year up to 34 per year. The extra 14 films are "enhanced" films made in 3-D, IMAX or animations. In addition, the foreign films' revenue sharing percentage has been raised from 13 percent to 25 percent.
However, Chinese film industry insiders said that among China's home made productions every year, only 5 percent really profit, whereas the other 95 percent simply lose money. As authorities and executives hope to bring in more funds, technologies, movie stars and professionals to help tell Chinese stories that would appeal to global audiences, the status quo may be too optimistic.
Insiders said that even the Oscar-winning Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", which earned over US$100 million in the United States in 2001, lost money on the Chinese side of the co-production, since the American distributor bought out the distributing rights and China's domestic gross for the film only reached a mere 15 million yuan (US$2.37 million). The Chinese side didn't have the right to a cut of the foreign revenue.