June 17th, 2019
Chinese film seeks to raise professional standards, festival forum told
By Patrick Frater, Variety Asia Bureau Chief
Greater professionalism within the Chinese film industry could lead to higher standards and greater overseas success. That was the unsurprising conclusion of the Global Film Industry Value Chain Forum held in Shanghai on the eve of the showcase annual film festival.
Speakers from China, the U.S., and Europe identified a need for improvement in screenwriting, production skills, and understanding of international markets as factors that could help Chinese movies make a global breakthrough.
Ever the optimist, industry financier Bennett Pozil of EastWest Bank predicted: “In the next 12-18 months there will be a Chinese movie that has global pull. Chinese films are going to find their voice internationally.” He predicated on the growing importance of streaming and the consolidation of Hollywood studios.
China’s co-production supremo said, “We’ve witnessed a surge in co-productions (between China) and the U.S. and with Europe. The box office (in China) for American films has been strong, that’s why U.S. productions are coming to China,” said Miao Xiaotian, president of China Film Co-production Corporation.
“But success stories among co-productions are not that common. That’s down to cultural differences, and lack of knowledge of each other’s markets.”
The closest to a discussion of China’s abrupt film production slowdown since mid-2018 came from Shanghai Film Group boss, Ren Zhonglun.
“Last year the film industry slowed down. As a result, it has become more rational, and calm. I hope that we are now pursuing a Chinese path, rather than remaining obsessed with overtaking the U.S.,” Ren said.
“We can be No.1 in terms of volume, but we need to professionalize and accelerate the process of industrialization. We need to be humble and ready to learn,” said Chen Xugang, an academic from Beijing University.
“In the West film-making tasks are clearly defined. But Chinese studios are all over the place, everyone is multi-tasking,” said Bona Film Group’s Jiang Defu. “We need to specialize and focus on own strengths.”
Others focused their remarks on China’s unique characteristics. “The Hollywood studio system is an obsolete model for China,” said Perfect Village CEO Ellen Eliasoph. “China is fast-moving and is digitized.”
“We are building a different ecosystem, based on multi-screen integration. (Movie producers) have good relations with streaming platforms. The speed of development brought us together,” said Jerry Ye, CEO of Huayi Brothers Pictures.
Film industry leaders pay homage to success and a
bright future in celebrating 70th anniversary of PRC
By Rachel Lu
The 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival has taken on another role to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China through arts and culture.
As host Sherwood Wu said in his introduction, if culture is the business card of a nation, then its movies are its headshots. Eight Chinese filmmakers gathered for the SIFF Forum yesterday at Crowne Hotel Shanghai to reflect on the successes of the movie industry and ponder its future.
The industry has witnessed immense progress, they were told. In 2018, the box office in China returned 609 million RMB, making it the second biggest movie market in the world closely behind Hollywood.
Although box office is telling, said Ren Zhonglun, Chairman of Shanghai Film Group, he emphasized the importance of creating quality content, with a quality-over-quantity mindset prevailing.
Ren hoped to encourage creativity over the pursuit of mere production and to improve the spiritual and intellectual value of movies. Jiang Ping, General Manager of China Film, echoed the same sentiment. Jiang alluded to the context of film history, in that the Chinese industry had reached the next higher level in its development during each 20-year cycle and predicted the next few years would be revolutionary.
Not all has been smooth sailing in the past year, however, with many experts calling it a “Capital Winter,” in addition to the pressure from tax crackdowns. Founder and Chairman of Bona Film Group, Yu Dong, was frank about this setback and its strain on the industry.
Yu was proud to say that even under such criticism and scrutiny, Chinese filmmakers were still able to make good movies, which was not an easy feat. Edward Cheng, Vice President of Tencent, agreed with Yu, chiming in that this was the perfect time for the industry to build a strong foundation and nurture young talent.
Looking ahead to the future, surpassing Hollywood had become an outdated goal, with filmmakers instead wanting to inspire people’s lives and make films with a distinct Chinese cultural undertone.
Wang Changtian, Chairman of Enlight Media, advocated for a rebuilding of confidence, particularly after the media industry’s decrease in market value. He had a positive attitude, however, saying that the number of talents in the field was growing quickly.
What motivated filmmakers, said Alibaba’s president, Fan Luyuan, were the demands of Chinese audiences, and he promised to make more movies that told excellent stories and promoted an upbeat energy.
John Zeng, President of Wanda Media, spoke on behalf of his colleagues whose collective goal, he said, was to give the nation a birthday gift in the form of movies. “The Rescue,” “Shanghai Fortress,” “The Climbers,” and “Me and My Nation” were only a few to watch coming to theaters soon, he said.
China’s Fortissimo Films picks up three movies listed for festival competition
By Patrick Frater, Variety Asia Bureau Chief
Sales company Fortissimo Films has picked up international rights to three of the movies that will unspool in competition over the next 10 days at Shanghai International Film Festival. All are world premieres.
Top feature director Zhang Yang (“Spicy Love Soup,” “Shower,”) makes an appearance with “The Sound of Dali,” a documentary that examines the natural beauty surrounding Dali in Yunnan Province.
Noted actress Qin Hailu (“The Pluto Moment,” “Red Amnesia,” “Durian, Durian”) makes her directorial debut with “The Return.” The film is a drama about an old soldier living in Taiwan who would like to return to mainland China.
But doing so would mean leaving behind his companion from the Red Envelope Club singers. The film stars Chang Feng, Ge Lei, and Lei Kesheng. It is set for a theatrical release in China through distribution companies Hehe Pictures, White Horse Film, and Pie Film Distribution on September 12.
“Vortex” is a Chinese crime action film produced by Cao Baoping (director of “The Dead End” and “Cock and Bull”) and directed by Gan Jianju, winner of best feature prize at the 2015 Xining First Film Festival with “Sometimes Naïve.” The story involves a scam that goes wrong, involving a girl in the trunk of a car. It stars Da Peng, Ou Hao and Li Meng.
Competition prizes at the festival will be decided by a jury headed by Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Fortissimo is also responsible for handling sales of “The Fourth Wall,” a drama that has its premiere in the Shanghai festival’s Asian New Talent section, where it is nominated for best film and for screenplay. The film is written and directed by Zhang Chong and Zhang Bo and stars Liu Lu (“Mountains May Depart,” “A Touch Of Sin”) and Wang Ziyi in a tale of suppressed memories and parallel worlds.
After more than 20 years as an Amsterdam- and Hong Kong-based operation, Fortissimo was revived two years ago by Alibaba-backed Hehe Pictures and reborn as a Beijing-based sales operation. Like its predecessor which was a pioneer of Asian cinema, the new Fortissimo largely specializes in Chinese and Asian art house titles.
Among its other upcoming titles is Ann Hui’s “Love After Love,” an adaptation of an Eileen Chang novel. Its powerhouse cast includes Eddie Peng and Ma Sichun. A world class production crew include director of photography Christopher Doyle (“In the Mood for Love”), costume designer Emi Wada (“Ran,” “Hero,”), sound designer Tu Duu Chih (“In the Mood for Love”) and editor Eric Kwong Chi-Leung (“Battle of Wits”).
The film is backed by Alibaba Pictures, Hehe Pictures, Qingniao Pictures, Maxtime Culture, Black Ant Film and Dongtai Each Media.
Grand parade of movie stars launches new Shanghai film festival
By Joyce Xu
The curtain was raised on the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival on June 15 at Shanghai Grand Theater with a star-studded red carpet and grand opening ceremony.
Film celebrities from China and overseas walked the red carpet with the cast and crew of their latest productions.
They included the film crew of newly produced Shanghai movie “The Climbers” about China’s first mountaineers to conquer the world’s highest peak, Mt. Qomolangma (Mt. Everest). The film stars Wu Jing, Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Yi.
Wu, known for his impressive performance in “Wolf Warriors,” said the film portrays the never-yielding spirit of Chinese climbers. It was a challenging experience to shoot on Mt. Qomolangma, he said. Wu is also the promotion ambassador for this year’s festival.
Director Teng Huatao brought to the festival his new sci-fi blockbuster film “Shanghai Fortress” which is about mankind’s efforts to protect the earth from alien invaders.
Chinese actress Tang Wei said she was excited to have many action scenes in “The Whistleblowers,” the latest offering directed by Xue Xiaolu.
Well-known Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is jury president for the main competition of this year's Golden Goblet Awards. A total of 15 feature films from China and overseas will vie in this category. The festival will also honor excellent documentary, animation, and short films.
Mainland filmmaker Ning Hao, jury president for the festival’s Asian New Talent Award, said he would judge the productions mainly on the creativity and passion of young filmmakers.
The festival’s opening film was “Beautiful Voyage,” a tale about ordinary people’s youth, dreams and love during the 1980s.
The film festival will run through to June 24. Movie buffs and industry professionals will be offered an array of programs including film competition, panorama, film forum, SIFF project and film market.