Enter the Dragon: Chasing China’s Box Office

Author: Joanna Wong

China is watching us.

In movie theatres from Shanghai to Urumqi, Canada’s landscapes and streetscapes are showing up on the big screen.

Our lush forests and snowy peaks form the backdrop for angsty vampires in the movie Twilight, which has attracted legions of swooning Chinese fans.

The doomsday epic 2012, filmed in Vancouver and produced in part by Canadian talent, generated a huge buzz with moviegoers across China.

And Avatar, which features animation by Quebec’s Hybride studio, grossed the equivalent of USD$195 million in China – the most of any country outside of America.

But while some of China’s hottest box office hits have been filmed or produced in Canada, the revenues have flowed south of the border to the Hollywood companies that backed the films.

The Chinese film industry is rising fast. If Canada wants to have a leading role in the business, we’ve got to show up at the casting call.

According to Beijing-based film industry consultant Vivian Xie, China’s box office is currently worth 10.2 billion yuan (USD$1.53 billion) and is likely to reach 50 billion yuan (USD$7.7 billion) over the next five years.

“A lot of people still think of China as a cheap labour market, not as a real market for their products,” says Xie. “But the ticket price for movies in China is the same as in Canada and the US.”

Over the past year, the BC government’s International Trade and Investment Office in Beijing has been working on building stronger ties between Chinese and Canadian filmmakers.

In fact, a series of successful delegations between industry leaders and film festival organizers in Vancouver and Beijing has sparked the beginnings of new collaborations.

For Chinese investors, the impressive resume of blockbusters generated by Vancouver’s film industry speaks for itself. And Canada’s historic edge over Hollywood - cheaper production costs and tax breaks - are a big draw for Chinese moviemakers looking for new ways to go international.

Xie says the key to effective cooperation with China’s film industry is co-production, where studios share investment, copyright and profits.

With only 20 foreign films imported into China every year, co-production would allow Canadian studios to sidestep Chinese quota limitations and get a bigger share of box office revenue.

The only hitch is making films that audiences on both sides of the Pacific actually want to watch.

Despite over 1000 Chinese production houses cranking out 500 movies a year, exports from China have mostly been limited to kungfu action flicks and art house films by Zhang Yimou and his coterie of directors.

And as Will Smith found out after the release of The Karate Kid, even a movie starring Jackie Chan can’t guarantee a box office hit in China. The Karate Kid only grossed 50 million yuan in China, less than half of most of Chan’s recent films.

“The Chinese kid got beat up by the foreign kid,” jokes Xie. “You think Chinese people want to see that?”

Sorry, Jackie. When you’re filming your next movie, give us a call.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Use 'AND' or 'OR' to refine your search.

Use quotes " " to get exact matches or remove them to get more results.