International Survey Examines Chinese Films' Impact Overseas

April 6, 2015
Editor: Eileen Cheng

A survey conducted in nine countries has recently been released by the Academy for International Communications of Chinese Culture.

It showed that while Chinese kungfu movies remain popular among foreign audiences, Chinese directors and actors still lack international recognition.

2014 was a good year for the Chinese film market, with the country's total box-office takings reaching nearly 4.8 billion US dollars.

The numbers are looking pretty for domestic markets, so what about the bigger picture?

Considering the Chinese film companies have been shouting for years how they want to gooverseas and compete with Hollywood, just how successful have they been? Well this silver bookis looking to answer that question.

Mainly divided into five parts, the book looks at aspects such as the content of Chinese films released overseas, the effects of such films, the diversity of distribution channels and coreproblems facing the industry.

A recurring theme of the report is that filmmakers willing to challenge the traditional channels of production and distribution could find success on the international market.

"The focus this year is on how overseas viewers are exposed to Chinese films. What we've foundis that people tend to watch Chinese films through free channels instead of going to theaters.Most of the participants watch Chinese films online. The Internet offers fertile and challengingground for Chinese filmmakers to exploit. And also kung fu and comedy are still the most popular types of Chinese films among overseas viewers," said Huang Huilin, Director of AICCC.

Kung fu films can be very successful, like in the case of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

Directed by Ang Lee, it grossed $128 million in the United States, becoming the highest-grossing foreign language film in Hollywood history.

The raw spectacle of martial arts combined with Chinese characters, settings and costumes satisfied the audiences "orientalistic interest", without challenging their underlying perceptions about China.

AICCC said this has been a prevailing trend since they started the project in 2011.

"We started this project because we want to find out how Chinese culture is being received internationally, and films are the most visually effective way to show our cultures. There arestudies on the impact of foreign films in China but not the other way around. Hopefully our study could shed some light on this," Huang said.

The survey certainly gives filmmakers in China something to work on, but for some this may bejust one piece of the puzzle.

"It is one way of assessing the influence of the market of Chinese films. It's not the only way. And Ithink it works better in evalutating the awareness rather than the penetration of Chinese fil mproducts.One need to look at different results to get the whole picture. But this one is surely valuable," China Daily's columnist Raymond Zhou said.

Chinese filmmakers may have trouble promoting on the big screen, on the small screen however,the interest in China and its culture is growing.

"We've noticed that more and more Chinese elements have been shown in American drama,whether is a character or a storyline or a place, like 'Marco Polo', ect. For me it's a westernized narrative of Chinese culture. It's like Chinese food in America, it's not just Chinese food, it's the irinterpretation and imagination about Chinese culture," AICCC's deputy director Luo Jun said.

This rising interest in Chinese culture overseas is mirrored in China's booming economy.

And the overseas small screen success could be a breaking point for the big screen.

"In last year we've seen a new version of Marco Polo, a mini series. And also "Fresh Off theBoat" a TV series about Chinese American family in the US. This was unprecedented actually,especially for broadcast channels. Also we've seen the re-edited version of "Empresses in Palace" which is a huge hit in China. It's a little bit too fast to say these facts are pointing to a conclusion but they certainly point to a direction. That Chinese films are being noticed frequentlyand it comes as a nature result of China's rise on the economic stage. Because culture and economy go hand in hand," Zhou said.

Experience from the small screen could point to the right direction: combining the professionalism of Hollywood with the cultural flair of Chinese cinema.

However the need for Chinese producers and filmmakers to find better storytelling techniques and fresh ideas will certainly be an uphill battle.

(Source: Xinhua)

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