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1. Chinese actor Wang Xueqi joins the cast of Iron Man 3, which is screening throughout the country.
2. Yan Bingyan wins best actress with her role in Feng Shui.
3. Hong Kong director Tsui Hark (right).
4. Keanu Reeves joins the festival to promote his movie Man of Tai Chi.
5. Director Zhang Yimou presents the best picture award at the Beijing International Film Festival.
6. Hong Kong actor Andy Lau.
7. Sarah Brightman is invited to perform at the closing ceremony of the festival.
8. Actor Wu Xiubo (left), director John Woo and his wife at the award ceremony of the festival.
Photos by Jiang Dong / China Daily
China is now the second-largest film market in the world, but restrictions on foreign films have provoked US production companies to take special approaches to enter the Chinese film industry. Liu Wei reports.
In 2012, China became the second-largest film market in the world, behind only the United States. The booming market has sparked the interest of Hollywood, which is trying various ways, many innovative, to enter the Chinese market through collaborations and co-productions with Chinese companies. But critics say full and genuine co-productions between Hollywood and the Chinese film industry still have a long way to go.
A report from the Motion Picture Association of America found box office revenues in China reached 16 billion yuan ($2.59 million) in 2012.
China contributes the most overseas box office revenue for many Hollywood productions, such as Avatar and Transformers 3.
The booming profits are prompting Hollywood to take a greater interest in China, but access to the market is not easy.
China imports only 34 foreign films a year for theatrical release, and Hollywood studios get no more than 25 percent of the revenue. There are also protective policies for domestic films, such as releasing two Hollywood blockbusters on the same day to dampen their impact.
Co-produced films, however, are exempt from the quota and treated as domestic productions, for which investors can discuss how the profits are distributed.
There are, however, rigid criteria for co-productions. Only when Chinese investment, cast, crew and aspects of the main storyline meet the requirements of the State Film Bureau can a co-produced film go ahead.
"The most important criterion of co-production is whether the story is about China and Chinese people, and whether it delivers Chinese values and culture," says Liang Longfei, vice-president of M1905.com, the official website of the China Movie Channel.
The rigid criteria and strong market has promoted Hollywood studios to take inventive approaches in their attempts to make their mark in China.
Paramount Pictures is working with the China Movie Channel, with the help of Los Angeles-based Jia-flix Enterprises, on the production of Transformers 4, which will be released in June 2014.
The three parties will cast four Chinese actors for the film via a reality TV show in China.
Aspiring actors need to submit footage online to take part, and 100 will be selected for the TV show that will follow them as they compete to win a role in the movie. The judging panel includes senior Hollywood insiders such as producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura and Megan Colligan, Paramount's marketing and distribution chief.
But even with the involvement of the China Movie Channel, the film will not be given co-production status.
"We certainly want it to be," says Liang, "but authorities define a co-production as films that tell Chinese stories with leading Chinese actors, and more importantly, films that convey Chinese culture and enhance the country's soft power. For a film like Transformers 4, it is almost impossible. We all know it is about robots."
Paramount is not the only major Hollywood studio that is wooing the Chinese market.
Marvel Studios' Iron Man 3, which was not granted co-production status, will make a special version of the film for the Chinese market, featuring an appearance by popular actress Fan Bingbing, and bonus footage made exclusively for Chinese audiences.
The Chinese and global versions of the film will both feature veteran Chinese actor Wang Xueqi, who plays a new character called Dr Wu.
Wu is a friend to the protagonist Tony Stark in the film, which premiered in China on May 1.
"We are confident that our stories will continue to be enjoyed by Chinese audiences," says a statement from Marvel Studios' parent company The Walt Disney Company.
"And adding a local flavor will enhance the appeal and relevance of our characters in China's fast-growing film marketplace."
Aside from finding a China-friendly storyline, production companies must also find a capable local partner who understands local authorities and audiences and can help Hollywood studios better access the market.
Although there is no rating system, China's authorities examine films' plots before allowing them to be released in theaters. Concerns are mainly focused on gratuitous sex and violence, but there can be other reasons a film is withheld.
Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained was withdrawn from theaters on its opening day on April 11, for what authorities euphemistically described as "technical reasons".
The China Movie Channel, backed by the State Film Bureau, is believed to be a helpful partner for Hollywood studios.
"We will definitely give useful suggestions to ensure a film has a good launch in China," says Liang of M1905.com. "This is the foundation of our cooperation."
"Their background certainly does not hurt," says Marc Ganis of Jiaflix, the company that has been acting as a go-between for Paramount and the China Movie Channel on Transformers 4.
The China Movie Channel can also help Paramount to secure shooting locations.
At a forum at the third Beijing Film Festival on April 20, Ganis suggested Transformers 4 may shoot some scenes in historic Chinese buildings, which is very difficult to win approval for.
Marvel chose DMG Entertainment to help them make Iron Man 3. DMG Entertainment is a 20-year-old company based in Beijing and run by Dan Mintz, an American producer who speaks fluent Chinese.
Insiders reveal DMG played a significant role in getting Wang Xueqi to join the cast and convincing the studio to make a special version of the film for the Chinese market.
Only two weeks after Iron Man 3's promotional event in Beijing on April 6, DreamWorks announced at the Beijing Film Festival it will work with the State-owned China Film Group to produce the adventure epic, Tibet Code.
China Film Group is the most powerful film production and distribution company in China, and it has the exclusive rights to import foreign films for theatrical release.
Jiang Wei, general manager of Edko (Beijing) Films Limited, which co-produced The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Universal Pictures in 2008, says genuine cooperation between Hollywood and the Chinese film industry is still a long way off.
"The current approaches work more like marketing strategies to win Chinese attention and hospitality," he says.
"There is no real in-depth cooperation, in which staff from both countries work together, like what the English and Australian filmmakers have been doing in Hollywood."
The Chinese film industry needs to grow for greater cooperation to be achieved, he says.
"When China's film industry grows as an equal partner and the box office becomes big enough, the Hollywood community will have to think of real stories involving Chinese culture and people who are real characters. Only then will real co-productions be possible," he says.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(China Daily 05/03/2013 page18)