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Diversity needed for Chinese films

CHINESE cinema is undergoing enormous changes in regard to film production and investment, 3-D technology is coming and so is hot money.

As financial and creative resources flood into mega productions and blockbuster mania sweeps the market, observers question whether quality films - which are rare - can be expected.

That's the issue film makers and industry experts discussed during the recent Shanghai International Film Festival.

Every year, China produces more than 400 movies, but only around 10 are box-office hits and many films don't even make it to the screen.

Noted Hollywood-based director John Woo and other film makers discussed breaking out of the blockbuster mold and creating low-budget big box-office films.

"Chinese cinema still lacks diversity and originality," says Woo, the jury president of this year's film festival. "There aren't many productions telling really good stories about modern-day life in China. A lot of films moralize and are stereotypical."

He urged young Chinese film makers to pursue originally and distinctive film-making, rather than copying the successful formulas of others.

Many people were awed by the special effects of 3-D "Avatar," but Woo found other factors in its popularity.

"A far-sighted film producer or investor is always the backbone of success," Woo says. "Producers gave full support to the long years of preparation and even asked experts to compile a dictionary of the aliens' Na'vi language, and manuals about sociology and ecological diversity on the planet," he says.

China has few experienced and highly professional producers, he says. Many seek quick returns and push film makers to give up their distinctive styles and make formula movies.

Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung, known for his arty films "Beyond Our Ken" and "Isabella," says he once rejected a mining boss' invitation to make a film so his girlfriend could star.

"He had no idea about film making, he only wanted his girlfriend to walk the red carpet at international film festivals," Pang says.

When "Avatar" had topped the Taiwan box office for 50 consecutive days, Taiwan film maker Doze Niu's "Monga" ended Avatar's ride and set a box-office record. It's a compelling and sad youth gangster film set in Taiwan in the 1980s and took in more than 100 million new Taiwan dollars (US$3.1 million) in its first six days.

The unexpected spectacular success reminded Niu that it's possible to make good thoughtful movies that still make money.

"In fact, it is the touching story instead of technology or visual that made 'Monga' a strong rival to 'Avatar' in Taiwan," Niu says.

Rejuvenation of the Chinese film industry cannot rely on a few mega-productions, he says. "It needs a strong 'middle power' that can generate diversity in moderate-budget films."

Paid product placement is playing a larger role in China's film industry but film makers warned that planting commercial elements into thoughtful and artistic films can ruin a good movie.

Software may be able to help.

Jiang Defu, general manager of China Film Group Marketing Corp, says the group will soon launch a software system that can analyze a script's possibilities for product placement. It's said to be the first of its kind in China and can help film makers decide if embedded advertising is appropriate.

China's cinemas are packed with martial arts blockbusters but industry observers emphasized the importance of good scripts and diversity.

Woo says Chinese film makers should appeal not only to Chinese but also international audiences with movies set in China.

"The script should take foreign audience tastes into account and directors should use more universal and understandable film language to pave the way for overseas distribution," Woo says.


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