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Country aims to strike gold amid rising silver screens

By Xu Fan in Bengbu, Anhui | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-19 09:44

As one of the world's most popular cultural mediums, cinema is at the forefront at the Taihu World Cultural Forum, an annual event that aims to enhance cultural exchanges.

The three-day event ends on Tuesday.

So far this year, domestic box office revenue has already topped 58 billion yuan ($8.3 billion), the China Film Administration said.

This indicates that China, the world's second-largest movie market, is closing the gap with the United States, the world's top cinema market, according to participants at a cinema-themed forum of the Taihu event in Bengbu, Anhui province, on Monday.

Cao Yin, director of the program center at China Movie Channel, said that China has 67,000 cinema screens - the most of any country - and the number is expected to surpass 80,000, a goal set by China Film Administration to be fulfilled by the end of next year.

Saying that China has signed coproduction agreements with 22 countries, Cao added it has deepened cinematic exchanges between domestic filmmakers and their foreign counterparts.

With the country's huge domestic market, which produced more than 1,000 films in 2019, Hong Kong director Stanley Tong said he believes foreign filmmakers will increasingly seek cooperation with China.

"International coproduction will become an important platform to send Chinese stories overseas and give us a broader vision of creation," Tong said.

Tong, who has worked in the film industry for nearly three decades, said Chinese filmmakers can learn from their Hollywood counterparts, who have devised ways of earning more from overseas than in their home market.

"In the past, Hollywood films derived around 30 percent of their total revenue from offshore markets, but in recent years the percentage has been lifted to around 60 percent," he said.

Recently, over 80 percent of the world's top 100 highest-grossing titles have been action films. Tong said the genre, in which plots are basically secondary to dazzling stunts, is one of the easiest ways to appeal to foreign audiences.

He directed the 1995 hit Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's first successful foray into Hollywood. Tong's upcoming action feature Vanguard, due out next year, is his sixth collaboration with Chan. Tong said the success of his work with the Hong Kong actor represents the universal popularity and appeal of action stars, adding that "every nation has its own domestic heroes".

Since the early 2000s, Chinese films have secured a bigger presence in the domestic market, with over 62 percent of box office revenue last year coming from homegrown titles.

But it has been a decadeslong struggle for domestic filmmakers to sell their stories overseas, a highlighted topic which also drew attention from some participants.

When asked what kinds of Chinese films would have the most global appeal, Yan Zhaozhu, chairman of the Taihu World Cultural Forum, said stories that address universal issues concerning all strata of society - such as environmental protection and climate change - are perhaps the best options.

Scriptwriter and filmmaker Pan Jun said Chinese filmmakers should inherit the legacy passed on by generations of elite directors - from Xie Tieli to Chen Kaige - to make emotional stories with in-depth examinations of humanity.

Ben Lee, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, said that he has been monitoring foreign films' performance in China and is quite impressed with the Indian hit Dangal (2016) and the Hollywood animated film Coco (2017), Pixar's highest-grossing film in China.

Lee said the two films stirred curiosity among Chinese moviegoers and serve as good examples of how values-themed stories win at the box office.

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