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Hollywood knocks on China door

IT'S been more than a decade since the Chinese film industry started working with Hollywood, but along the way they have also been competitors as well as collaborators.

Ever since the box-office success of "2012" and "Avatar," China has been considered the biggest potential market for Hollywood. On the other hand, more Chinese film makers are skeptical about collaborating with overseas partners due to a few made-in-China hits.

"New Front for Industry Collaboration Between China and Hollywood," an industry summit during the ongoing 13th Shanghai International Film Festival, brings the two sides together. Influential people from both film industries have discussed this key partnership and its effects on future world cinema.

"The Chinese film industry did not actually boom until about three years ago," says Yu Dong, president of Bona International Film Group. "Without many big film production companies and theaters, at that time, a lot of investors didn't believe they could get a return from this industry."

But after several years of development, China produced 456 movies last year and the country's movie theaters took in more than 6 billion yuan (US$878.2 million), a 40 percent increase from 2008.

However, the two highest-grossing films were Hollywood productions. Both "2012" and "Transformers 2" made more than 400 million yuan each at the China box office.

Veteran director Feng Xiaogang notes that Chinese film makers have to admit the huge technology gap between the domestic industry and Hollywood.

"The special effects industry here has not kept pace with the flourishing of our film market," he says. "Many young talents are enthusiastic about film directing and acting, but they won't take up a career in technical production."

Feng is regarded as an important figure in the domestic film industry since his humorous and gorgeous hesui pian (movies celebrating the New Year) have largely helped nurture Chinese people's habit of going to cinemas.

He adds that Chinese film makers should first gain expertise in special effects, marketing and distribution from their Hollywood counterparts.

"Although the American film market tempts many Chinese directors, they should make their cinematography strong enough to compete with Hollywood blockbusters first in the Chinese market," Feng says.

In the eyes of Robert Pisano, president and chief operating officer of Motion Picture Association, there are growing opportunities between the two sides. Yet he cautions that not everything Hollywood offers is a good thing. He says learn something but don't copy everything.

"As for Chinese film makers, a key to success is telling the right story people want to see," Pisano says. "China has a rich cultural heritage. You have so many stories to tell. But firstly you need to find a way of telling stories, and then translate them and make them accessible to people around the world."

Richard Gelfond, CEO of IMAX Corporation, is looking forward to cooperation between the two industries in the near future.

Two new IMAX outlets will open at Pudong's Stellar Cinema City and Wujiaochang's Wanda International Cineplex in Yangpu District next month in time for the release of director Feng's "Aftershock" on July 22.

So far, there are about 33 commercial IMAX cinemas in China.

In addition to building more IMAX theaters in China, Gelfond also plans to bring Chinese IMAX films to the world.

"Aftershock," a film about the devastating 1976 earthquake in Tangshan, Hebei Province, is the first Chinese film to be digitally remastered into the IMAX format.

China's profound history and culture are inspiring good stories and also attracting more Hollywood companies to make co-productions with their Chinese peers. These films are intended for the world market.

Harvey Weinstein, a co-producer of the period piece "Shanghai," which is set in 1940s Shanghai, has purchased the copyrights to the sequel of the Oscar-winning film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." He also wants to do remakes of classic Chinese movies.

"My advice to Chinese cinema is to do something innovative, and shoot it in a way that appeals to both local and international audiences," says Weinstein.


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