​Incredible rise of China's film industry

By Tom Fowdy
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, February 21, 2021
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Moviegoers wait to watch films at a cinema in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning province, Feb. 12, 2021. [Photo/VCG]

China's film market broke new records over the recent lunar new year period. Fuelled by a reduced willingness to travel, but a nonetheless functioning society owing to a successful handling of the COVID-19, moviegoers piled into cinemas over the holiday, producing box office returns of over $770 million. 

Top of the list was the popular "Detective Chinatown 3" which has now topped the global tally for the most successful opening weekend of any film ever, hauling in $424 million and surpassing "Avengers: Endgame" of 2019. The feat increasingly cements China's position as the world's most lucrative film market, as stressed by an op-ed on Quartz, and it didn't need Hollywood to do it.

However, does it have a film industry structure to keep up with this growing demand? The past year has been a one-horse race for the sheer fact that the COVID-19 put American movies on ice. This has been a boon for China's filmmakers. 

What is remarkable about "Detective Chinatown 3" is that it was never heralded as a masterpiece, it's a middle of the way average comedy film with mixed reviews. However, it shows the devastating potential of what China can achieve if it excels, and never has that been more relevant in the struggle against Western propaganda and the need to expand its culture exports to the rest of the world. 

Bar a select few countries, the galaxy of the world stardom and cinema orbits tightly around California. Now, however, a gateway is open to shift this balance. And it's time to make the most of it.

The rapid expansion of China's box office market is a testimony to the success of its transition towards a consumer economy. Going to the cinema is a form of modern consumption. It is a non-essential pastime activity which involves spending money on a leisurely pursuit, which signals a society has surplus resources to spend. 

In poorer countries, where the activities of everyday life are orientated towards mere survival, such activities are not possible. China has in the past 40 years, however, made an enormous transition from being what was a largely agrarian society, into an urban industrialized society, and is now in the process of becoming a consumer society. As an immediate product, its domestic film market is growing year on year.

The primary benefactor of this transition has been Hollywood films themselves, which have long sustained a global monopoly. The unwavering hegemony of California based studios have subsequently consumed the markets of other countries, making it difficult for domestic industries to compete. 

After all, the world's highest grossing movie, "Avengers Endgame", amassed $600 million of its revenue alone in China, showing how Chinese produced films must frequently compete against Hollywood titans, who prove overwhelmingly strong in terms of talent, capabilities, experience and resources. 

There are only two other countries that have successfully managed to hold their own against the United States on their home turf, and those are South Korea and India respectively.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020-2021 has opened an opportunity for China's films to consolidate their domestic positions. The global proliferation of the virus and widespread lockdowns effectively shut down Hollywood and put global cinema on ice, leading to a boom of streaming services as opposed to traditional theaters. 

Many big studios have subsequently postponed their biggest pictures, or broadcast them to huge losses. China, however, has been an exception to this rule. The country's swift overcoming of COVID-19 and sustaining of normal life for most of the year has meant the Chinese film market and industry has stayed afloat, effectively allowing Chinese films to gain an upper hand against their Western competitors for over a year.

The Chinese film "The Eight Hundred" subsequently amassed $468 million and became the most successful film of all 2020; three other Chinese movies also made the top ten list for that year. Subsequently, "Detective Chinatown 3" has, for the time being, become the highest grossing film of 2021 so far, followed by seven other Chinese films airing over the New Year. 

This position won't last, of course, as Hollywood roars back, but it's a strong illustration of what China can achieve as its own markets continue to grow. And if, in tandem, its own films continue to increase in quality and local appeal, this will inevitably spur others who want a piece of China's box office market. 

Thus, in riding on the financial benefactor and unbridled advantage of the past two years, it's time for production companies to seriously up their game!

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S. For more information please visit: 


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