The Chinese (Cultural) Invasion?
The New York Times had in interesting article today detailing the hopes and efforts of the Chinese film industry to break into the American (and global) cultural market. It is without question that the American film industry is, by far, the most influential national film industry. And, despite the rise of global consumption, whether a film is a hit in the States or not still matters. Even if the majority of the money comes from outside the U.S. For several years, many American films have been co-produced or partially financed by Chinese companies with Sino centric subplots or Chinese actors. Now the dream is to reverse that. The goal: to have a Chinese global blockbuster.
I’m sympathetic with the dream. I would love to see a global Chinese blockbuster. Or any non American global blockbuster. And I’d love to see it hit big here in America.
I’m no expert on Chinese cinema. I’ve watched a few films, and I’ve loved all of them. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern, and Shanghai Triad are all some of my favorite movies.
But I’m a niche audience on two fronts. I love foreign film. And I love wuxia.
Unfortunately, American film consumption is extremely provincial. Barring the odd British film, practically all film consumed in America is domestic. Foreign film is a niche. Wuxia film is a niche. Is it possible for a foreign language film to break out of that niche?
Well, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon managed $128 million. So that would count. But, to my knowledge, no other Chinese film has been so successful. (Not that I really pay all that much attention to the film industry, to be honest).
So, how can a Chinese film reach blockbuster status in America (and the world)? I think there are two options.
Option one is the mixed approach. As American productions are set in and use supporting Chinese actors to appeal to Chinese audiences, so Chinese productions will do the same to appeal to Americans. In the NYT article, such a production is in the early planning stages (though set on the train from Moscow to Beijing). Could this thriller be the breakthrough hoped for?
Option two is the traditional approach. As pointed out in the article, China has 5,000 years worth of history to mine for stories. So far, it is these films which have had the most crossover success. And there are a lot of stories. I would love to see Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, etc. adapted. I’m sure the right story will provide the dreamed for breakthrough.
But why this dream? There are two reasons. The Chinese film industry wants to expand. And by expanding their markets, they make more money. Secondly, the Chinese government wishes to extend its soft power through cultural influence.
The Chinese government is, however, the 500lbs. gorilla in the room. Censorship has been a problem in cross cultural exchanges (in both film and literature). So how will a reversal affect things? How will politics both inside and outside China affect the dream of blockbusters and influence? That remains to be seen. But that hurdle must be jumped for any success to happen.
I’m hopping for success. And I look forward to seeing what films will be coming our way.
Now, I’ve got a disclaimer to write, and a niece to fight.off.