Insights > Internationalisation Of Chinese Films?
28 Oct 2006

Internationalisation Of Chinese Films?

In general, Chinese cinema has made itself known in Asia and Western Europe, and the diversity of its production deserves filmgoers' congratulations. Yet, after a closer look at it, one discovers a different facet.

To most foreign audiences, Chinese cinema seems to be concentrated on large-scale epic and martial arts films on one hand, and on the other, author and social films on a smaller scale. The former can be represented by the 5th generation of filmmakers, the leading figures of whom are Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. These directors have been highly praised at international festivals during the 80s and early 90s, and their style recently moved towards more international and often martial-arts-packed types of films with regional talents (actors from other Chinese speaking territories in Asia, from Japan or Korea, etc.). With films like Hero and The Promise, they have gained new audiences outside of the art-house film circles.

By contrast, the latter group, led by the 6th generation, is now presenting to European filmgoers a more "modern" face of Chinese cinema. This group can be represented by directors such as Jia Zhangke, Lou Ye and Wang Xiaoshuai who have made films in documentary-like ways, often using DV camera in the attempt of depicting darker aspects of Chinese society. Interestingly enough, they have shot, most of the time, without official approval of the Chinese film authorities. These films are often produced in collaboration with international partners, particularly, Europeans and Japanese, and have access to film subsidies from these countries. There have been a lot of films banned at home and those presented in European festival without the proper official permission, and these aspects are used by the European press and distributors as marketing tools.

Yet, the categorisation of these two groups of directors is never clear-cut. It is true that none of Feng Xiao Gang films has ever been released in Europe despite the fact that this Beijing-based director is one of the most popular filmmakers at home. His dark comedies that depict the change and new habits of urban Chinese society are regularly on the top of the box office. However, one can guess that he aims to gain more international fame with his last film, The Banquet, which features comedians and technicians known in the west as they worked in films such as Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The fact that this film was presented in a major festival, Venice, can help to familiarize the filmmaker with European audiences.

In reality, Chinese films are more diverse than an outsider can imagine, and there are a big load of films and directors that are almost unknown outside the country. China produces around 260 films a year, only a very small number of which are visible outside the country. Now, efforts are being made to "internationalise" these unknown directors. In the Beijing Screenings held in September this year, China Film Group and China Film Promotion International organised an event that aimed to introduce newer films, most of which were produced by many state-governed studios and those run by provincial authorities, to festival delegates and distributors. Along with the screenings of 35 films, a seminar was held with the subject "How to bring Chinese films to the World". Some of the speakers, particularly the representatives of diverse film authorities, said that the way to go is to open itself to more international collaboration and co-productions. This is a strategy that American major studios have already embraced. Columbia Pictures Asia co-financed Kekexili and Big Shot Funerals, and Warner Bros China is distributing films by young directors, such as Crazy Stone (closing film at the coming Pusan International Film Festival) and Jade Warrior (the first Finnish-Chinese co-production). The Chinese film authorities are encouraging these types of international collaborations whereas the potential foreign co-producers/investors are worried about a number of problems: Copyright issues (piracy is still rampant in China), the importation quota on foreign films with share-profit, and the regular blackout put on foreign films to secure good box-office of specific Chinese films. According to a speaker of the seminar, China has 100 years of history of filmmaking, but it is only 20 years that the concept of copyright is known to the country. So time should help to solve this relatively current issue of piracy, and hopefully, today's DVD bootleggers will be tomorrow's legitimate DVD distributors.

International exchanges and collaboration will certainly give chances to see a wider range of Chinese films to the world's audiences. For those interested in seeing diverse facets of Chinese films, including those which the local audiences enjoy, there are some specialised film festivals that have made efforts to introduce a broader selection of Chinese films, such as Far East Festival in Udine, Italy, and Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece. The Greek festival will host a special program of ten years of Chinese cinema, presenting the films of those who haven't been presented in the major international film festival circuit.

by Jérémy Segay