by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, March 10 (Xinhua) — With a rapidly-modernizing film industry noted for recent hits that raked in box office revenues, China’s top filmmakers may finally be learning what it takes to spin a good yarn.
Chinese blockbusters, such as Wen Muye’s “Dying to Survive,” Guo Fan’s “The Wandering Earth,” Dante Lam’s “Operation Red Sea,” Wu Jing’s “Wolf Warrior 2,” Chen Sicheng’s “Detective Chinatown 2,” and Raman Hui’s “Monster Hunt,” not only have made big box office gross, but also have attracted widespread international attention and won plaudits from Hollywood pundits.
“China’s film industry has very talented, creative people and great directors. As they gain experience and pick our brains, you’ll see them produce more films with the look and feel of Hollywood movies,” Arthur Sarkissian, A-List producer of the “Rush Hour” franchise and “The Foreigner” told Xinhua.
“‘(The) Wandering Earth’ was excellent, a leap forward in quality production values, good storytelling, and superior VFX (visual effects) that didn’t pull you out of the story,” actor Matt William Knowles told Xinhua. Knowles is a Mandarin-speaking American actor known for his work in a number of Chinese films and TV series such as “Asura,” and “Love Me If You Dare,” who’s bullish on the future of China’s top filmmakers.
“I think China’s new filmmakers will be forced to be reckoned with in the future,” he said.
“The Wandering Earth,” China’s first homegrown sci-fi epic, has grossed more than 680 million U.S. dollars worldwide and ranks among the top 20 highest-grossing sci-fi films of all time.
“But Chinese sci-fi films still have a long way to go to catch up to Hollywood sci-fi movies,” the film’s young director, Guo Fan, told Xinhua modestly in a recent exclusive interview in Los Angeles during the film’s U.S. promotional tour.
When Guo studied at Paramount Studios, home of the mega-successful Star Trek franchise, he was stunned at the advanced level of Hollywood’s sci-fi film production capabilities, which enable the studios to churn out blockbusters in under two years, while it took more than four years to make his film in China.
“We are still small craftsmen compared to Hollywood’s advanced industrialized assembly-line for sci-fi filmmaking. But we are improving every day,” he said. When asked if he would be interested in doing a co-production with Hollywood, he said he would “be honored” to do so.
Xinhua caught up with film industry insiders at the recent yearly “China Night Oscar-Viewing Gala” hosted in Hollywood by the American-Chinese CEO Society (ACCS).
Serving the mission to help Chinese and American companies generate more trade and co-productions together, this year’s gala brought together dozens of stars and heavy-weights from the U.S. and Chinese film industries, all looking to do business together.
“Hollywood is the movie capital of the world and offers so much expertise and creativity. Because of the high growth rate of the box office in China, China’s film industry wants to learn from Hollywood,” Robert Sun, founder and CEO of the ACCS, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
“But creators and leaders from both sides need to spend more time together to build trust and develop personal and professional relationships. Then the deals can flow more easily,” he said.
“There’ve been six Chinese films in the past year that grossed over 500 million U.S. dollars in China’s domestic box office. That’s truly impressive growth. But they still have to up their game in the international markets too,” Richard Walters, CEO of Bold Films, behind such seminal and successful films as “Whiplash,” “Drive,” and “Bobby” told Xinhua at the event.
Other Hollywood movers and shakers are keeping a close eye on Chinese filmmakers as they get a handle on how to craft stories with wider appeal.
Noting China’s recent success in sci-fi and social dramedies, Xian Li, senior vice president of SK Global, told Xinhua, “As the Chinese market matures, we can expect to see more great content and more exploration of new genres and mixed genres.”
Many accolades have gone to another box office favorite, “Dying to Survive,” a poignant, brilliantly-crafted and socially-relevant dramedy, which is directed by gifted first-timer Wen Muye, stars Chinese actor Xu Zheng, and has earned 450 million dollars.
The film is about a reformed con artist who finds himself struggling to smuggle in lower-cost, generic leukemia medicine to prevent his friends and other Chinese cancer sufferers from dying like flies.
“‘Dying to Survive’ was a revelation. Arguably one of the best films in the world in the past decade,” said Brad Parks, chairman of the rebooted Hollywood Film Festival, which co-hosted the American premier of Wen’s film along with the International Cultural Collaborative (ICC), a Chinese-American cultural organization based in Los Angeles.
“The film is a great combination of heart and drama. Xu’s a natural. He made a movie that entertains, but also has huge social impact. That’s what it’s all about,” Oscar-winning indie filmmaker Billy Bob Thornton said.
“This is a groundbreaking film in the Chinese film industry,” SK Global’s Li told Xinhua. “This film proved that good story prevails and a great performance can really resonate with audiences.”
And they are not the only ones moved by it. More than just engaging entertainment, the “Dying to Survive” story went viral, sending out powerful ripples that touched the hearts of the Chinese people.
It is in that vein that Jimmy Chin, Chinese American 2019 Oscar-winner for Best Documentary Feature for his nail-biter, “Free Solo,” told Xinhua, “I hope China gets into more documentaries, especially environmental ones, because where China goes now, so will the world.”
There are still some cultural differences to iron out that can present obstacles to Chinese movies crossing over to mainstream international audiences.
“Mixing Chinese and American or European stars in Chinese films would be a good way to expand their appeal to international audiences,” veteran Hollywood producer, Sarkissian, said, who have successfully combined Hollywood and Chinese elements in his own hit movies.
“But you can’t force inappropriate actors into the story, it has to organically lend itself to international co-stars,” he added.
“Incredible local movies are breaking out of the shadows in China,” said Alexis Garcia, partner at Endeavor Content, a leading agency and producer heavily involved with the Asian market.
He added that films of quality like “Dying to Survive” will inspire more Chinese filmmakers and more Hollywood crossovers.