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Helping films attract global audiences

Updated: 2024-05-18 10:15 ( China Daily )
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A poster of Tsui Hark's martial arts film.[Photo provided to China Daily]

With box office receipts soaring between the Spring Festival and May Day holidays, Chinese filmmakers have begun intensifying efforts to expand their footprint overseas.

On April 20, the China Film Group Corp, one of the country's largest studios, unveiled a lineup of 78 films designed to attract international buyers from more than 10 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Australia.

The list, which is comprised of upcoming films and recent blockbusters, includes Tsui Hark's martial arts film The Legend of the Condor Heroes: The Great Hero, the 8th-century-set animated hit Chang'an, and the patriotic film My Country, My Parents.

Liu Chun, vice-president of the China Film Group Corp, says that they prepared for two months to organize a special screening event of the films during the 14th Beijing International Film Festival, which closed on April 26, in the hope of more Chinese films being shown abroad.

Speaking about the criteria for selection, Liu tells China Daily that the entries had to cater to the tastes of international audiences, while also being distinctly Chinese.

"We held a similar screening for nine Russian distributors last October and have since received positive feedback. Considering the increasing number of foreign filmmakers and insiders coming to China this year, we expect to spread more Chinese stories around the world," he says.

According to Liu, Middle Eastern and African countries are most fond of martial arts tales, while European countries prefer arthouse films, while the North American audience is more accustomed to watching English-language films.

"But overseas markets are constantly changing. Through the Beijing Film Festival screenings, we hope to gain insights into their evolving preferences," he adds.

Despite previously believing that foreign audiences might be interested in movies featuring traditional culture, Liu says they have discovered that popular commercial movies based on the ideas of striving or cooperation have also resonated with theatergoers abroad.

For example, YOLO, a film depicting an oversized woman striving to gain self-confidence, has grossed over $7 million in multiple overseas markets, including North America, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Malaysia. The Wandering Earth II, a scifi epic that shows humanity uniting to confront a catastrophe threatening the existence of the Earth, has so far grossed over 100 million yuan ($13.8 million) through overseas release in 44 countries and regions.

Liu says that the Chinese-language films that captured overseas attention in the early days were primarily action blockbusters, featuring stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, with Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon propelling the genre to a glorious moment in the early 2000s.

However in 2019, The Wandering Earth became a huge success, showing that Chinese filmmakers can blend Chinese culture and values into hard-core sci-fi, setting them apart from Hollywood blockbusters. This fresh approach appeals to some global audiences, according to Liu.

"We have also noticed a growing interest among foreign audiences in films that portray the real-life situations of Chinese people today," he adds.

Further elaborating on their awareness of current trends, Liu reveals that the lineup includes movies such as The Captain, which is inspired by a real-life miraculous plane landing that saved 119 passengers, and Ping Pong: The Triumph, which recounts the victory of Chinese athletes at the 1995 World Table Tennis Championships.

"The future challenge for Chinese filmmakers is to discover themes that resonate with international audiences while including Chinese culture and elements to help Chinese narratives navigate overseas," he says.

Additionally, he revealed that international cooperation could become an effective way of raising the influence of Chinese movies, as exemplified by Meg 2: The Trench, the highest-grossing of the 37 coproductions approved by China in 2023.

The Sino-US film, which grossed $398 million at the global box office, has a successful formula. With the Chinese production company leading the investment and the creative process, the project successfully attracted top-notch filmmakers from Hollywood to collaborate on making a blockbuster, he adds.

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