China a hotbed for Asian filmmakers

MUMBAI: After becoming an economic power, China has become the hotbed for filmmakers in Asia with many filmmakers from Hong Kong and South Korea have made their base in the country for its growing impact on the Asian film industry.

Hong Kong has seen several of its biggest name directors relocate to the Chinese capital, also the capital of China‘s film industry. These directors include John Woo, Peter Chan, Tsui Hark and Gordon Chan. Others including Teddy Chen and producer Raymond Wong are making big films in China.

The world‘s most populous nation now has answer to nearly every question about the Asian film industry and also has become a cinematic powerhouse and filmmakers there are not only turning the global box-office charts on their heads but they are also redefining the meaning of the word ‘co-production‘.

Nowhere is the mystery of China‘s film industry better illustrated than at the top of this year‘s Chinese box-office charts. Released in late 2008 If You are the One went on to become a hit and played through January. The film grabbed $47.7 million to elbow out Titanic from the popularity it has enjoyed for more than a decade. But only a few months later the new record was wiped out by the performance of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

According to estimates of Chinese film industry, there are more than a dozen Chinese-language movies with the realistic potential to each make it to the top, the symbolic figure that only a couple of years ago barely accounted for two or three films, reports Hollywood Reporter. The films comprise those from China, Hong Kong talent working in China and even a Taiwanese film.

This has led to a worry that Hong Kong has suddenly lost its place in Asian film. But the truth is that its influence has been diminishing for several years as big studios like Golden Harvest withdrew from production and Cantonese-style pictures have struggled to compete in Asian territories where tastes have turned more sophisticated and globalised.

From the summer‘s box-office performances, July and August saw eleven Hong Kong films or its co-productions with China, compared with five films last year, thus enjoying a combined gross up by 80 per cent. These films included Overheard by Alan Mak and Felix Chong and Turning Point.

Things may be looking up at the box-office in South Korea as well. The country became a global cinematic powerhouse at the beginning of the decade but its fortunes slumped two years ago as budgets got out of control after which both its local and overseas audiences lost faith in the ‘Korean wave‘.

The Japanese film industry, termed as the world‘s second-largest entertainment market, has been often written off as waning and about to be overtaken by either China or India.

But in the first half, a year without a Hayao Miyazaki animated blockbuster, theatrical box-office went up by 17 per cent and a strong crop of local titles last year lifted the market share of local films to roughly 60 per cent after which Hollywood movies again look set to sell less than one in two tickets.

This year‘s hits include Rookies that grossed $85 million and the latest animated film Detective Conan made $37 million, April Bride garnered $33 million, Crows Zero II made $31 million and 20th Century Boys went on to make $31 million.

The biggest overseas hit of the year is Red Cliff: Part 2 that made $58.5 million was co-distributed with Avex that also invested heavily in the film, thus making it a Chinese-language multinational co-venture and the most expensive Asian film ever made.

Film financing conditions within Asia have looked relatively stable during the past years compared with Europe and the US Films are getting made and, especially in the case of China, with big budgets.

The first cause is Asian filmmakers‘ heavy reliance on equity funding and their only small use of bank finance, something which dried up elsewhere last year.
Nor does Asia have the widespread soft money that is now being questioned by anxious finance ministries in Europe and the US. Singapore and Korea are the exceptions to that pattern where tapping public money appears to be getting tougher.

The other explanation is the ‘China factor‘. Chinese film benefits and suffers from an unstructured pool of "angel" financing flowing from investors in other industries. Those Chinese companies that are in it for the long term -- such as Peter Chan‘s Cinema Popular, Enlight Media and the Shanghai Media Group -- appear to have a chance of making some real money.

The ability to produce, distribute and invest in the Chinese film market has become a sore point in relations between the US and China to the extent that market access issues were the subject of a World Trade Organization investigation.

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