China’s booming movie industry is attracting interest from Hollywood heavyweights, as they chase bigger box-office returns to offset tighter margins at home.
Films with Asian and especially Chinese themes are becoming more prominent after Hollywood hit a 16-year low in movie tickets sales last year, while some of its biggest studios are setting up shop in the country.
DreamWorks Animation is setting up a China base while Legendary, the studio behind Christopher Nolan’s wildly successful “Batman” series as well as “Clash of the Titans” and “The Hangover” franchises, is also developing a venture.
Keanu Reeves is making his directorial debut with “Man of Tai Chi” which is currently filming in China and Hong Kong, while Aamir Khan’s Bollywood comedy drama “3 Idiots” is in talks for a Hollywood remake.
China’s rapidly expanding film industry continues to break new ground and set new records, collecting an estimated 13.1 billion yuan (US$2.07 billion) in 2011 — up by around 30 per cent on-year.
Around 2,500 more cinema screens are expected to be unveiled across the country this year, with its market now the third largest behind Japan and the United States.
This compares with a clear slowdown in North America.
The Motion Picture Association (MPA) says box office takings from 2007 to 2011 in the United States and Canada grew only 6.3 per cent to US$10.2 billion, while the Asia-Pacific region saw 38-per cent growth to US$9 billion.
Zhang Yimou’s “The Flowers of War” was China’s biggest box office smash of the past 12 months, starring Oscar-winning American actor Christian Bale.
It collected around US$90 million from the Chinese box office while picking up a nomination for best foreign language film at the prestigious Golden Globes in the United States.
It comes as Hollywood looks to increasingly give a Chinese angle to its output.
Industry veterans say Chinese audiences are particularly drawn to movies that include Chinese references or elements of Chinese culture.
One of the main obstacles for foreign filmmakers wanting to crack the Chinese market is a law limiting the number of international films that can be screened in the country to just 20 a year.
It forces studios to co-produce films with Chinese partners or risk having their films blocked at the border.