July 27, 2021

China wants to wipe Hollywood off the map

This article is published in partnership with the weekly Stylist, distributed free of charge in Paris and in ten major cities in France. To access the entire issue online, it’s here.

All hopes were in him. Released late 2016 / early 2017 in China, United States and around the world, The great wall director Zhang Yimou was to celebrate the definitive union of Hollywood and Chinese production forces in the service of great world entertainment.

And for that, no one had skimped on financial means, with a budget of $ 150 million and Matt Damon in the lead role against a predominantly Chinese cast.

Threat to Hollywood hegemony

«We are less different than we think“, Insisted even the final line of the film. Except that there is. In the facts, The great wall only highlighted the differences between the two countries. Because if the film was a real success in China, it on the other hand cashed a resounding flop at the American box office and a volley of frankly negative reviews.

So much so that we came close to the diplomatic incident when the People’s Daily site, official spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party, accused the American press of being “vicious and irresponsibleAnd to have an attitude detrimental to the development of the film industry in China.

In parallel, Matt Damon also had to face a volley of accusations of whitewashing who reproached him for having taken the place of a Chinese actor. A failure therefore for this first major Sino-American production, which was yet to be a show of collaborative force.

Since the winter of 2010, China has understood that it could be one of the flagship nations of tomorrow’s cinema. “It was the year that truly marked the country’s entry into the industrial era of local blockbusters. There have been several feature films that have been released for the New Year, with much stronger marketing and screening policies.Luisa Prudentino, a Chinese cinema specialist teacher at Inalco, explains.

And the Chinese public immediately answered the call since that year, the Chinese box office brought in 1.5 billion dollars, an increase of 64%. A phenomenal progression which continued in the following years, proving that China can now make its own blockbusters for its own market. What arouse the attention of Americans, who see it as a threat to their hegemony over the sector as much as an opportunity to be seized.

For the past few years, Hollywood and “Chinawood” have therefore been turning around, for better or for worse. And on both sides, we secretly wonder who will end up headlining.

Best Hope Award

Since the 1920s, Chinese audiences have loved American cinema. At the time, comedies made in the USA were already very successful in the country and in the 1930s, the first great Chinese filmmakers regularly went back and forth to Hollywood to learn new techniques. On the other hand, the Western public is still quite closed to films produced in Asia.

It was not until the year 2000, with the national and international success of films like Tiger and dragon (2000) then Hero (2002), that China is starting to assert itself, driven by wu xia pian, those Chinese sword movies.

To the point of interesting people like Wang Jianlin, the richest man in China, who then decides to bet on the future of Chinese cinema, by investing heavily in the construction of cinemas all over the country. In 2012, ten new screens are built in China every day, and the majority of them belong to Wanda, Wang Jianlin’s group.

Far from being limited to China, the billionaire bought the same year the American company AMC Theaters, the largest owner of theaters in the United States. “Wang Jianlin became the first owner of American theaters with 8,272 screens in total. And the first owner of rooms in the world», Souligne Luisa Prudentino.

In the process, he is investing $ 8.2 billion to also build from scratch Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, a city entirely dedicated to cinema.

Chinese Hollywood in Qingdao | DR

The objective is clear: to compete with Hollywood by relocating world film production to China. On one of the hills overlooking the city, Wang Jianlin has the words “Eastern CinemaMaking sure his letters are bigger than Hollywood’s.

Stanley Rosen, professor of political science at the Chinese Institute of the University of Southern California: “China wants to be No. 1 in everything and for them it is very important to have a strong film industry. She made it one of the keys to her soft power. Chinese films must improve the image of the country abroad by presenting positive aspects. It is crucial for them.»

Composition role

China’s gargantuan appetite for cinema does not seem to worry Americans much, however. “Hollywood is quite arrogant at this level, because it thinks that China cannot make a film that would manage to compete with them, that it does not have the technical or financial capacities, that it does not know how to tell a story. . What Hollywood wants is for it to open up its market as much as possible. And that the Chinese invest in Hollywood», Explains Stanley Rosen.

For their part, Chinese groups like Wanda are gradually establishing themselves in Hollywood to learn on the spot the techniques of special effects still poorly mastered in Asia. A give-and-take strategy which should satisfy everyone but which comes up against the regime’s passion for censorship. The Chinese government has always watched very closely the films shown on its soil and elsewhere.

In 1997, for example, three big Hollywood studios were banned from the country because of the films Kundun, Seven years in Tibet and Red Corner, while these films did not even target the Chinese market. But at the time, in a China still poorly equipped with cinemas, the ban had not really affected the Americans.

Today, as the Asian giant is gradually becoming the world’s largest market for cinema, can Hollywood afford to make films that China does not like? Not really anymore.

And to get around the quota rule that places the limit of 34 Hollywood films in the country each year, many do not hesitate to trick. “It is possible to avoid the quota rule if the film is produced in collaboration with Chinese studios. For example, Kung Fu Panda 3 which has been hugely successful in the country is a Sino-American co-production, although no one knows», Explains Noël Garino, artistic director of the Chinese Film Festival in France.

Logically, the quota rule should be reviewed this year. Some speak of a dozen additional films, notably following a phone call “extremely cordialBetween Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Custom cinema

Obviously, the compromises necessary for this Hollywood-Chinawood tandem ended up gradually changing the nature of the films themselves. On the Chinese side, while local productions systematically compete for the box office against the Americans, it has become almost impossible to make arthouse films, as Luisa Prudentino reminds us: “The director needs the producer and the producers don’t take any risks at all for fear of getting slapped on the fingers by the government which wants an ever stronger Chinese film industry. It has become difficult to make an alternative cinema in China. This race with the United States ended up killing the films of authors. »

On the American side, Hollywood often has to modify the storytelling of its films to see them screened in China. Often by self-censorship more than by censorship, the American studios are now careful not to force too much on the doses of violence or sex of their blockbusters. “We also see more and more Chinese actors in Hollywood productions. Even if it’s for a small role. For example, in the last episode ofStar Wars : Rogue One, there were two », Specifies Noël Garino.

But above all, we now do not hesitate to rewrite entire passages of certain films to bring them into China. While Men In Black 3 was recently cut off from a thirteen minute streak, movies like Transformers 4 were picked up to include entire scenes filmed in China with Chinese actors and even Chinese product placement.

But it’s probably the movie Red Dawn(2012) which holds the Palme d’Or for the remake.

Shot from a script recounting a war between the United States and China, the film has been fully reworked in post-production so that the Americans’ adversaries are ultimately North Korea. Stanley Rosen does not know what to think: “Since the North Koreans hacked Sony in 2014, we don’t really dare to give them the role of bad guys for fear of reprisals. Suddenly, we are short of bad guys. We end up with films in which the enemies are now big media companies, terrorist organizations or big polluters. More and more abstract things.»

We are impatiently awaiting the theatrical release of the next Sino-American co-productions which will see the whole world unite with one voice against an invasion of fake news, Breton nationalists or hay fever.