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China invests in 'The Karate Kid'

CHINESE and American film makers are beginning to turn out strong box-office coproductions like "The Karate Kid" and "Shanghai," and there's a new model of greater Chinese involvement in production and distribution.

Chinese cinemas are being wooed by Western film makers, and the courtship goes both ways as Chinese film makers seek a wider audience, and Western technology and expertise.

Harald Zwart's action drama "The Karate Kid" starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith earned more than US$132 million worldwide after only 12 days, making the US$40 million film the most successful Chinese-American coproduction ever. It was released in North America on June 11 and in China on June 22.

"We didn't expect the box office to be that good," says Jiang Defu, general manager of China Film Group Marketing Corp. "It strengthens our confidence to make more coproduction films."

He says there are plans to invite Keanu Reeves to collaborate with Chinese stars in a new production.

"The Karate Kid," also known as "Kung Fu Kid," is the first coproduction by Columbia Pictures and China Film Group Corp. It's a martial arts remake of the 1984 film of the same name by Columbia Pictures.

The story, set in both United States and China, is about Chinese kung fu instead of Japanese karate. A 12-year-old boy Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) moves from Detroit to China with his mother but becomes the target of the class bully. Mr Han (Jackie Chan), a kung fu master, teaches him self-defense.

Earlier in June, another US coproduction "Shanghai" was released during the Shanghai International Film Festival. It stars Gong Li, John Cusack, Chow Yun-fat and Ken Watanabe,

Its box office in Shanghai United Cinema Lines reached 4.5 million yuan (US$663,291).

Both "The Karate Kid" and "Shanghai" are not only Hollywood films shot in China - the Chinese partners also invested in them and retained part of the distribution rights.

Traditionally, China-foreign coproductions mean foreign investment and domestic filming because of story setting and low cost. Chinese companies usually don't get involved with production or distribution.

This new model is seen as a trend of greater Chinese involvement in production.

Chinese subject matter and the vast potential of the Chinese mainland market have a big appeal to Western film makers, as well as those in Hong Kong.

Lee Likchi's "Flirting Scholar 2," a Hong Kong coproduction, is to be released next Friday.

"Flirting Scholar 2" is expected to be a big summer hit. It's a prequel to the original comedy classic of 1993 starring Stephen Chow and Gong Li. When famous scholar Tang Bohu is out for an excursion with his friends, he runs into Qian Qian (the former name of Qiu Xiang) and they fall in love. But she is accused of being a spider spirit and a priest wants to burn her to death.

According to the producer of both films, Charles Heung, the new movie will largely retain the original cinematographic style of the original.

Many of the scenes were filmed at Hengdian Film Studio, a big advance over the original with its artificial settings. The mainland film group will also participate in the film's marketing, promotion and distribution on the Chinese mainland.

Another highly anticipated coproduction is John Woo's US$12 million ancient-setting action film "Reign of Assassins," his latest offering since "Red Cliff" (2008). It is to be released in August or September.

The film is in English.

Starring Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, South Korean actor Jung Woo-sung and many acclaimed Chinese actors, it's the story of a female assassin who falls in love with a man whose relative was killed by her gang. She is unaware that he is also a martial arts master.

It is produced by Woo's and Terence Chang's Lion Rock Productions with financial backing from Beijing Galloping Horse, Hong Kong's Media Asia and Taiwan companies Gamania and Lumiere.

The film in English aims for the global market. It is said that the Weinstein Co has acquired North American and South African rights to the film.

"Empires of the Deep," a sort of "Little Mermaid" story, is a 3-D Chinese-American coproduction scheduled to premiere in 2011. The 3-D technology makes it the most expensive Chinese coproduction film ever, with budget of up to US$100 million.

Directed by Michael French, the underwater fantasy explores the world of mermaids and tells the story of love between a mortal man and a mermaid.

Its star crew includes Steve Polites, Olga Kurylenko (the Bond girl in the 2008 James Bond film "Quantum of Solace"), Chinese actresses Shi Yanfei and Yang Mi and actor Hu Jun. The script is written by Randall Frakes and Jiang Hongyu. It's reported that the virtual camera operator Anthony Arendt of "Avatar" has joined the team as a 3-D consultant.

It is shot in China at the Beijing Film Studio and in Fujian and Hainan provinces.

"Coproduction is a trend and the language (English) is also the language of the world," says Tang Lijun, managing director of the Shanghai International Film Festival. "It's very important for the Chinese film industry because now most people choose to watch Hollywood films and we have the responsibility to help the film industry develop in more diverse ways."

Coproduction is a must for the development of the Chinese movie industry, says Liu Haibo, a teacher in film art from Shanghai University. It's a way for foreign films to enter China and for Chinese films to go abroad.

There are two kinds of coproduction, he notes. One is cooperation on the production level only, and the other is the cooperation of actors and actresses.

"But the core is production cooperation since the purpose of coproduced films is to expand the market," Liu say.

Chinese film makers can expand their overseas market and learn advanced production techniques and technology.

Foreign film makers can also enter the Chinese market, as they did in the coproduced film "The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor" (2008).


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