Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Hollywood's soft power hard to copy

By Philip Cunningham (China Daily) Updated: 2016-01-26 08:16

Hollywood's soft power hard to copy At first glance, China's latest Hollywood deal, Wanda Group's purchase of Legendary Entertainment, is a hardware-software match made in box-office heaven. The news that Wang Jianlin, one of China's richest men is snapping up a Hollywood blockbuster production house is at once breathtaking and utterly predictable. It complements a theatrical empire that includes thousands of screens on both sides of the Pacific and meshes nicely with plans for the world's biggest studio.

Can a "Hollywood East" by the sea be accomplished through mergers and moneymen alone?

China's phenomenal growth in recent years reflects, at least in part, a willingness to think big, to tread where others dare not tread, to copy, co-opt, and take big chances.

The question remains, can a cultural efflorescence such as cinematic achievement be conjured up and brought to fruition like an industrial-strength infrastructure project?

President Xi Jinping has stated that China needs to do a better job of presenting itself to the world. Along comes Wang Jianlin, heeding the call, with a grandiose plan to make China a major film power by fiat and deep-pocketed investment.

The problem is, what works for rockets and trains may not work for movies.

Creative success is quirky, subject to shifting tastes and capricious audience receptivity.

Film is a fickle business. It is hard to think of a moneymaking realm where money is more at risk. Grounded in the nuances of human nature and human spirit, art is hard to harness and quantify. Cold cash cannot begin to pin the creative genie down.

Hollywood success reflects a century of resourceful hits and misses, bouts of outright titillation, tireless trial and error, constant experimentation and unplanned, organic growth.

The marriage of Wanda and Legendary may indeed boost the fortunes of both companies, especially if investor excitement reaches the threshold of a stock listing in Hong Kong or Shenzhen. Legendary has been keen on the China market for quite some time now, its ambitions best expressed in the long-delayed but evocatively titled film being produced by its China spin-off production arm, Legendary East.

The Great Wall helmed by the iconic Zhang Yimou is due for release later this year. It's not immediately clear how an action picture starring America's Matt Damon going to battle with computer-generated dragons against the backdrop of a mock Great Wall will contribute to boosting China's standing in the world, but the mechanics and muscle behind the flick will ensure massive publicity and a wide in opening in Wanda theaters everywhere.

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