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Caution essential for film partnerships

By Stanley Rosen | China Daily | Updated: 2014-06-05 10:29

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Moreover, the Chinese in Karate Kid were far more benign in the version shown only in China, reflecting the problems with co-productions that have to meet the demands of multiple markets.

Since 2010, when China began to enforce its strict requirements for co-productions instead of concentrating primarily on the overseas box office, there have not been any successes to equal those of previous years.

Thus, of the 67 co-productions filmed by mainland makers in 2012, 40 were partnered with Hong Kong and 11 with Taiwan. There were only four co-productions with the US. Not surprisingly, among all co-productions, those with Hong Kong accounted for nine of the top 10 box-office successes, with the remaining successful co-production coming from Taiwan.

Hollywood faces a dilemma in deciding whether to do a co-production, particularly when they are trying to market a global blockbuster.

While the market in China can be crucial to a film's success, and the advantages of bypassing the quota system and gaining a 43 percent return from the box office are compelling, they have to consider whether meeting the demands of a Chinese co-production will have a negative impact on success in other markets.

As Zhang Hongsen, former director-general of the Film Bureau under the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, has said that "co-productions should show the unique charms of China to audiences worldwide".

However, since Hollywood blockbusters are high-concept films that must appeal universally, they may consider an overly strong emphasis on "charming" Chinese characteristics to be less marketable elsewhere, and the global market has little recognition of Chinese films and film stars.

What we have seen recently is the attempt to gain some of the benefits of a co-production in terms of mounting a successful marketing campaign within China without the burdens that co-production status requires, including a cast in which one-third of the major actors have to be Chinese and the inclusion of sufficient Chinese cultural content.

What we are seeing is a rise in cooperation activities between Hollywood and China, but not necessarily an increase in Sino-US co-productions. China is an increasingly important market for Hollywood, but Hollywood will try to succeed in China without jeopardizing other markets, placing clear limits on the likelihood of major co-productions.

The author is director of the East Asian Studies Center at University of Southern California's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

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