China’s movie box office revenues in February reached 10 billion yuan ($1.58 billion), setting a worldwide record for a month. And 70 percent of revenues were contributed by domestic filmmakers.
Political advisers from the film industry are calling for more films with Chinese characteristics to build up cultural confidence.
“We have rich cultural elements that can be developed into popular movies,” Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong action movie star and member of the 13th CPPCC National Committee, said on Tuesday.
“We have kung fu, and we have panda. But we didn’t make Kung Fu Panda. Hollywood did.”
Chan emphasized the importance of better marketing methods to promote Chinese films among international filmgoers.
Speaking of Amazing China, a recent documentary hit on China’s big screen that reviews the country’s comprehensive development over the past five years, Chan said English subtitles should be added for promotion overseas.
“The films will eventually help foreigners to better understand a changing China, and they’ll be more willing to visit the country,” he said, adding that high quality is the key for Chinese films to travel abroad successfully.
Chan cited Operation Red Sea, a war film adapted from the Chinese Navy’s evacuation of Chinese citizens from Yemen in 2015, as a recent example. It has earned more than 3 billion yuan at the box office. In Chan’s eyes, the movie－directed by Hong Kong’s Dante Lam－is also a good example of cooperation between filmmakers from Hong Kong and the mainland.
He believes Hong Kong filmmakers can greatly contribute to the country’s booming film industry.
“When given a bigger theme,” he said, “Hong Kong directors focusing on local topics can also use their expertise to make some popular mainstream productions.”
With 55.9 billion yuan in box office revenues in 2017, China is now the world’s second-largest movie market after the United States. By contrast, the figure was a relatively paltry 800 million yuan in 1997.
As of the end of February, China had 53,824 movie screens, the most in the world.
“More than 70 percent of the movie tickets in China were sold through the internet, which is unimaginable in other countries,” said Hou Guangming, Communist Party chief of the Beijing Film Academy and a CPPCC member.
Nevertheless, much work remains to be done.
On Monday, the Academy Awards once again reignited the aspirations of many Chinese filmgoers. Domestic film awards in China attract less attention, Hou admitted.
“The Oscars are the domestic film awards of the United States,” he said. “But US films have worldwide influence through a highly developed film business, and their leading role will continue.”
Hou said the Chinese film industry does not have to always follow the Hollywood model.
“For example, we can launch film festivals that promote our own aesthetics and values, and gain a greater voice overseas,” he said.
“Chinese culture cannot be reflected through individual signals,” Hou said. “Jackie Chan is an ambassador promoting Chinese culture through cinema, but Chinese culture goes far beyond kung fu. We need look deeper into our traditions and have more diverse expression.”
He suggested that filmmakers should form a systematic Chinese film theory featuring the country’s characteristics.
One good thing is that the booming Chinese film market embraces many genres.
“Successful examples of art-house films, documentaries and other genres, which used to be unpopular, have emerged in the past few years,” Hou said.
More genres means that a wider range of expertise is needed. The bottleneck is that there are not enough top-tier Chinese directors, said Feng Xiaogang, another CPPCC member who is also a director.
“Hollywood can hire directors from all over the world for their films,” he said. “But it is not realistic for China. We need to better nurture our own talent.”
In the past three years, Feng and other Chinese directors have worked to develop a nationwide project for training directors to get their works promoted.
“Young filmmakers must not be distorted by money in a booming market,” he explained. “They need better guidance.”
Feng said that more cross-border training projects under the framework will follow, but he also appealed for more financial support from the government.
“It matters for the coming decades of Chinese films, as we’re getting old,” he said.